BY AARON PATTERSON email@example.com
---- — DANVILLE — Bismarck-Henning senior Andy Bott and his Blue Devils teammates remember all-too well the feeling they had following last year’s 43-39 overtime loss to the Westville Tigers in the Vermilion County Tournament.
The Blue Devils surrendered a 10-point lead and completely lost momentum when then-senior Robert Elliott scored on a rebound basket with two seconds left in regulation to tie the game for Westville. The eventual loss meant that Bismarck-Henning, which was favored to make it to the championship, missed out on the chance for a County title.
They won’t feel that disappointment this year as the Blue Devils defeated the Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers 45-31 Thursday night to advance to Saturday’s 8 p.m. title game.
“It feels good,” Bott said. “Last year we missed out on it. We weren’t really excited about that. That was definitely a goal this year. We just wanted to get back. We are always looking for that. Our goal is to get a regional championship, but this is definitely another one of the goals that we had.
“It definitely means a lot to make it back and play in the 8 o’clock game, because we didn’t like playing at 6:30.”
Bismarck-Henning (17-1) didn’t take any chances on missing out this year and held a 10-point advantage by the end of the first quarter. Perhaps more crucial to the win than the initial lead was that all five starters had scored in the first eight minutes of the contest.
The offensive output didn’t surprise Blue Devils coach Jon Clapp with four seniors and an experienced sophomore point guard in the starting lineup.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors,” Clapp said. “We’ve got a good group of seniors, guys that have been around the program for quite a few years.
“Dylan Allen has matured a lot from last year as a sophomore handling the ball and doing what he does with it, and playing pretty smart. For only being a sophomore — if you’ve got a guy that can take care of the ball for you, you can do a lot of things.”
Allen finished with a team high 13 points and six rebounds while big man Wilde Garowski scored 10 and pulled down seven rebounds. And it was Bott who scored nine points, pulled down seven rebounds, and swiped four of Bismarck-Henning’s eight steals.
The Blue Devils led by 16 in the fourth quarter before Hoopeston Area began hitting from the outside. The Cornjerkers hit three consecutive three-pointers during a 9-1 run that pulled them to within 37-29 with2:40 to go. But Bismarck-Henning regained control and finished with an 8-2 run. Hoopeston Area failed to score in the final two minutes of the game.
“They were hitting some threes, and they were frustrating us down on the offensive end,” Clapp said of Hoopeston Area’s comeback effort. “They were switching the screen. We weren’t counteracting that too well with what we should be doing. We got a little quick and hurried for a while.
“Once we kind of settled back down and just realized that we had the lead and we just needed to take care of the ball, they were going to have to come out and foul us at the end.”
Hoopeston Area senior Mason Layden led the Cornjerkers with 13 points and six rebounds. He hit three of his team’s seven three-pointers in the game.
The win and effort by the Blue Devils offered reassurance coming off of an admitted lackluster performance against the Oakwood Comets.
“After the game against Oakwood, we came out and we worked a lot harder tonight,” Bott said. “In that game against Oakwood, we were all dead. We had a practice and we were really physical at practice, and definitely came out a lot more physical. That was all coach told us; get physical and work hard, and everything will work out.
“I feel like after that game, we really started picking up the tempo. It was heart, really.”
They hope to take that same heart and effort into Saturday’s 8 p.m. title game against the defending champion Westville Tigers.
Westville held on to defeat the Salt Fork Storm 40-39 on Thursday.