BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — The Westville Tigers earned the right to defend it's Vermilion County Title with a 40-39 victory over the Salt Fork Storm in the championship game of Pool B on Thursday night at the David S. Palmer Arena.
Taking a page out of a football game plan, Westville used a ball-control offense to frustrate Salt Fork and the Tigers converted on 21 of its 38 possessions in the game.
"I thought for the most part we had good execution — the first half especially,'' said Westville coach Jeff Millis, whose team shot 58.6 percent (17-of-29) form the field. "That game was won just as much in the first half as it was anywhere else.
"We wanted to have positive possessions and we wanted to get good shots.''
The Tigers (10-7) built a 22-15 lead at halftime thanks in large part to scoring on 11 of 18 possessions in the first half, that included a pair of possessions where Westville took advantage of offensive rebounds to score points.
"It was kind of like in football, when you have a team that is able to run the ball and hold onto the ball, they were able to make the most out of every possession they had,'' Salt Fork coach Andrew Johnson said. "We just didn't create enough turnovers, and their offensive efficiency was very, very good.''
In the first half, Westville was guilty of just three turnovers. The Storm rallied in the second half thanks in part to forcing the Tigers in 11 miscues, including seven in the fourth quarter.
"I was a little disappointed with our execution against the pressure,'' Millis said. "But, that was as much my fault as the kids. We weren't in some of the right sets that we needed to be in against their press.
"Fortunately, we made just enough free throws to do what we needed to do.''
The Tigers were 4-of-8 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter to preserve the one-point victory. Kyle Brazas made 2-of-2 with 34 seconds left in the game and Jeffery Thompson made 1-of-2 with 17 ticks left on the clock.
Brazas and Thompson shared team-high scoring honors with 12 points each, and according to Millis they executed the proper game plan against Salt Fork center Max Stutsman.
"When Max Stutsman is in the game, you have to pull up short,'' Millis said. "You are not going to get it to the rim against him. He is that dominate of a player. He is a great player. He has been for three years.
"We had to come up with something a little different. The key was stopping short and we had to make some shots. We made enough shots by stopping short.''
Brazas, who didn't score in the previous matchup with Salt Fork and he was 0-for-8 from the field in Tuesday's game against Armstrong-Potomac) was 5-of-6 on shots inside the lane on Thursday night, while Thompson was 5-of-8.
"I thought Thompson and Brazas did a good job of attacking the basket,'' Johnson said. "When you make shots, you look pretty good offensively. I felt like they got the right shots that they wanted.''
But that wasn't the one thing that bother the second-year coach of the Storm. It was the fact that Westville grabbed eight offensive rebounds to just seven defensive rebounds for Salt Fork.
"When you are shooting a good percentage like Westville did and you are getting the offensive rebounds, it's almost feels like they weren't missing,'' he said. "Those offensive rebounds were key factors in tonight's game.''
Salt Fork also struggled with its shooting, missing numerous shots within 10 feet of the basket. The Storm shot just 41 percent, but they had a chance to tie the game on a 3-point attempt by Cole Taylor in the final seconds.
"As a coach, we got the shots that we wanted to get. It was just a matter of finishing them,'' Johnson said. "When you lose by one point, you try to pick apart everything you did wrong. All of the things we did tonight are correctable errors.''
Westville, playing most of the game with five players all around 6-foot tall, was able to out-rebound Salt Fork 20-16 as Brazas, Dalton Hilligoss, Jordan Romo and Austin Flynn combined 14 rebounds.
"This was a team victory, everyone contributed in some way,'' Millis said. "I thought Jordan Romo made some great hustle plays that don't show up on the stat sheets.''
Stutsman score a game-high 16 points for the Storm and he also pulled won a game-high eight rebounds. Also scoring in double figures for Salt Fork was senior Ross Learnard with 11.
With the win, Westville advances to Saturday's Vermilion County Tournament championship game against the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils, a 45-31 winner over Hoopeston Area for the Pool A championship. Tip off the title game is set for 8 p.m.
Salt Fork will play Hoopeston Area in the third-place game at 6:30 p.m.