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By TIM EVANS
FOR THE LEADER
A scrappy Heritage team did all they could to keep Villa Grove's girl's basketball team from a perfect Little Okaw Valley Season Thursday night, but failed despite a boisterous senior night crowd 54-44 in Broadlands.
The Lady Blue Devils (21-7, 8-0 in the LOVC) used a big inside game from seniors Countney Helm (21 points, all coming in the second half) and Lizzy Smith (14 points) as Villa Grove lead throughout the night, fighting off numerous challenges by the motivated upset-minded hosts, who finished their regular season at 12-14 and were 2-6 in conference play.
Villa Grove came out with a 4-0 lead early but Heritage fought back with a pair of threes by senior Dallas McCormick and junior Desirae Westerfield and took the lead twice by one on free throws before the visitors finished the first period up 12-9.
A three-pointer by Kayla Dowler gave the Lady Blue Devils a 26-20 halftime advantage after the Hawks had cut the lead to three with under 10 seconds remaining on a bucket by McCormick, who lead Heritage with 21.
Heritage cut the lead to four at 34-30 on another layup by McCormick, but a quick bucket, steal and another bucket helped the Blue Devils to an eight point advantage before the hosts again cut the margin to four on another bucket by McCormick.
Villa Grove eventually built the lead back to 41-34 by the end of the period.
A three-point shot by Helm early in the final period put Villa Grove into a double-figure lead and it swelled to 12 points late in the game as Helm hit 14 of the team's 16 points in the third and added seven more in the fourth period to put away the undersized Hawks.
Heritage had cut the lead to six with just under two minutes remaining on buckets by Mary Happ and McCormick with just under two minutes to play before the visitors hit some key free throws and dominated the boards in the final minutes to take control.
Coach Dan Sappenfield called it a big win for his team and said he was “proud” of his girls – in particularly Helm and Smith who took control of the game when Heritage had come from behind.
“I knew the seniors would take care of things,” he said, pointing out Helm and Smith have been “cogs” for the team all year in providing leadership and called them two of the “best” in the Little Okaw Valley Conference.
He credited Dowler as well for making some big shots – noting she's done that several times this year - and praised the play off the bench of Katie Douglas. “We don't have a big bench, but when Katie comes off it, it makes a difference for us,” he said.
The 10th year coach credited Heritage for “playing above their heads.”
Hawks coach Kami White agreed, noting the team got off to a good start behind a senior night crowd.
“We got a lot of momenum going,” she said, pointing out her girls were playing of the “energy” of senior night. “We usually don't get that big a crowd, so we really had some support tonight,” White added.
She said Villa Grove's height and key shooting hurt Heritage as they dominated the boards and the inside play.
White said the shot at the end of the half was a real “stab in the heart” and called it “a momentum killer.”
White called the Blue Devils “a fantastic team” and was proud of the fact her team fought to only lose to Villa Grove by 10. “I couldn't be happier with the effort our girls put in,” White said, pointing out the play of seniors McCormick and Happ, shoing a lot of senior leadership.
She said Villa Grove's height capitalized on her Hawks. “We're so small,” White said. “We try to pride our girls on fundamentals and playing good defense. Nobody is even close to their height,” she said. “I guess you gotta play with the cards your dealt. Effort is the best thing we have.”
All of Helm's points came in the second half, nine coming on three-pointers while she hit six field goals while Smith hit six field goals and a pair from the line. Dolwer had 11 while Alix Ezell rounded out the Villa Grove scoring with eight.
McCormick's points came in making a trio of three-pointers while she added five field goals and a pair from the line. Junior Desarie Westerfield also had a dozen for the Hawks, hitting two three-pointers and two field goals as well as a pair of free throws.
Mary Happ added six points including one three-pointer while Elissa Baxter had two points as did Jennifer Lannon. Teri Sturdyvin rounded out the Hawk scoring with one point.