BY AARON PATTERSON
When the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils began Friday’s Vermilion County Tournament third place game against the Westville Tigers, coach Mike Stephens knew something was wrong. And a quick discussion with his team at halftime verified his concern.
“I thought we had no energy early,” Stephens said. “Even at halftime, I said, ‘We don’t have it tonight.’ They were like, ‘We don’t have it tonight.’
“What we just tried to say was even on nights when you don’t have your best stuff, you’ve got to grind and try to find a way to win a game. I thought our kids did a pretty good job of that tonight.”
The Blue Devils (8-15) watched as the Tigers (10-16) built a 10-2 lead in the first quarter, and didn’t do much to help their cause making only four of 23 shot attempts in the first half. But like Stephens suggested, his team responded and was able to grind out a 36-28 win to take third place.
“When we first came out, I think we underestimated them and we thought we were going to win it because we won before,” Bismarck-Henning sophomore Brooke Walsh said. “They really came out and got after us. Coach got on us and said, ‘You need to play your heart out.’ We just picked it up from there.”
Bismarck-Henning immediately responded to Westville’s run by outscoring the Tigers 7-0 during a four-minute stretch in the second quarter.
With only one senior on the roster, the Blue Devils knew that underclassmen would have to step up this season, and specifically in the tournament if they would have any success. Ella Nelson, Lindsay Andrews, and Stephanie Bott each saw significant playing time.
Andrews — who was named to the all-tournament team along with Walsh — was in the starting lineup and impressed her coaches with a strong defensive effort against Westville senior Ashley Hoffman.
“In the second half, I thought she played it very well and it bothered (Hoffman),” Westville coach Mike Chandler said. “Then she got help. We didn’t always find the open girl in that situation. But here again, that has a lot to do with the good defense that they have. She’s going to be a good one. She’s just a freshman and she’s going to be a good one.”
Despite sharing a team-high nine points with Danielle Gabehart, Hoffman was held to only three baskets. Andrews, meanwhile, followed up her defensive effort with a game-high 13 points with seven coming at the free throw line.
Walsh also responded to Stephens’ challenge of playing with more energy in the second half. After being held scoreless in the first and recording only three rebounds, the 5-foot-10 forward stepped up her game to the tune of eight points in the second half, and finished with a total of 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
With the two teams battling early in the fourth quarter, Bismarck-Henning took its final lead of the game at 26-25 on a basket by Andrews, and Walsh followed with a three to extend the lead to four with five minutes remaining. From there, Andrews scored five of the Blue Devils’ final seven points.
Bismarck-Henning’s streak of five consecutive Vermilion County Tournament titles came to an end this season, and though they entered the tournament with the mindset of wanting to continue the streak, they realized early it might have been more of a challenge for them this season than in previous years.
“It’s stressful to come in as a not-so-good team with everything we’ve been through and expect to win the whole tournament,” Walsh said. “We’ve won it five years in a row. Our motto is just play your heart out. If we win, we win. If we don’t, we’re still a team.”
The team effort also saw Addie Voyles score seven points and grab seven rebounds.
Bismarck-Henning is scheduled to take on Hoopeston Area on Monday, while Westville travels to Milford to take on the Bearcats.