BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — Bismarck-Henning had its string of five straight Vermilion County Tournament championships come to an end at the hands of the Armstrong-Potomac Trojans.
Not only did Armstrong-Potomac claim the Vermilion County title a year ago, but in the process, the Trojans snapped the Blue Devils 16-game winning streak at the Palmer Arena with a 31-27 win in pool play a year ago.
On Wednesday night, Bismarck-Henning got itself back in the championship game with a 39-32 victory over the Salt Fork Storm.
“We have been fortunate to play in a lot of championship games, and even last year, we put a good fight to try and make it back to the title game,’’ said Bismarck-Henning coach Mike Stephens, whose team took third in last year’s County Tournament. “So, we weren’t totally disappointed in our performance, but we are certainly happy to be back in that final game.’’
Bismarck-Henning senior Maddie Winkler, who missed part of last year’s County Tournament to run a half-marathon, admitted being back in the title game is a big deal for the Blue Devils. That was quite obvious as the team could be heard celebrating throughout the Palmer Arena.
“Being back in the championship is exciting,’’ she said. “It’s something that every team in this county wants to win.’’
But does it take on a bigger significance after having your streak broken a year ago?
“I’ve always said this is a special tournament, especially for me’’ Stephens said. “Being a Danville guy, this is the one chance that a lot of people that I know can get out and see my team play.
“And for the kids, it’s very special to play for the County Tournament championship.’’
And Bismarck-Henning had to win a battle against Salt Fork to get back into the title game.
“I told the team after the game that I didn’t think I could give them an ‘A’ in composure, but I thought in the gutsy department, we were pretty tough down the stretch,’’ Stephens said.
The Blue Devils (15-8) made 8-of-12 free throws in the final 2 minutes, 27 seconds to secure the seven-point victory as the Storm (13-9) got as close as five (32-27) when Jenny Kimbro made 1-of-2 free throws with 2:44 left.
Salt Fork missed numerous point-blank shots in the contest and the Storm were a disappointing 9-of-19 at the foul line against the Blue Devils.
“We missed some shots,’’ Salt Fork coach Jeff Carleton said. “We left a lot of points on a floor, and against a good team like Bismarck, you can’t do that and win.
“We missed enough free throws to win this game.’’
The Storm, which made 6-of-12 shots in the first half, wound up shooting 31.4 percent (11-of-35) in the game. And one of the potential factors in their poor shooting was the fact that the Salt Fork girls didn’t have a practice on Tuesday.
“School policy dictates that we don’t practice when we don’t have school,’’ said Carleton, noting that neither Jamaica nor Catlin High School was in session on Tuesday, but Bismarck-Henning did have classes and practice. “So, our girls haven’t done anything since our game here on Monday night.
“But, to our girls credit, they fought and they had a chance to win the game at the end.’’
One of the biggest turning points came at the end of the first half when Winkler buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer giving Bismarck-Henning a 17-13 halftime lead.
“We were trying to get the ball to Addie (Voyles) and when we couldn’t get it to her, I knew I had to step up and take my shot,’’ Winkler said. “It gave us a little extra momentum going into the locker room.’’
Carleton admitted it was a defensive miscue that allowed Winkler to get a wide-open look from the left wing.
“That did take the wind out of our sails, a little bit,’’ he said. “When shots fall, you look good.’’
According to Stephens, it was the type of player that Winkler, who finished with five points, four assists and four rebounds, has been providing all season.
“She has been our leader this year,’’ he said. “This was a strange game early and we didn’t look very good. But, her composure and leadership were big for us, and defensively, she did a really nice job.
“But the 3 at the end of the half was a huge emotional lift.’’
Bismarck-Henning junior Brooke Walsh scored 10 of her game-high 14 points in the second half and she also pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. Walsh was also 6-of-10 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Lindsey Andrews finished with nine points for the Blue Devils.
Logan Sanford was the leading scorer for Salt Fork with 11 points and she also had eight rebounds.
Up next, Bismarck-Henning will play Armstrong-Potomac, the winners of Pool A, in the Vermilion County Tournament championship game at 8 p.m. on Friday, while Salt Fork faces Georgetown-Ridge Farm in the third-place game at 6:30 p.m.