By Tony Hooker
Win semifinal rematch with Okaw Valley
The Villa Grove Heritage Hawks continued their 2020 ‘revenge tour’ of the Lincoln Prairie conference during tournament play. After opening the tournament by dispatching a CGB quintet whom they had fallen to fourteen days earlier, the Hawks got a second chance at Okaw Valley, the tourney’s number one seed, in semifinal action on January 28.
The first quarter saw VGH pound the ball inside to Logan Nohren who was able to use his length to score six points in the quarter. A few errant passes late, however, allowed OV to break out to a 16-10 lead at the end of the stanza.
The second quarter saw VGH continue to chip away, taking advantage of their height advantage with Carson Howard scoring four of his six points in the frame and Nohren chipping in ten of his game and career high thirty-three points as the Hawks made it a one point game at 31-30 going into the break.
The third period saw VGH wings Eversole and Blake Smith repeatedly breaking the Timberwolves full court press and feeding the bigs for easy buckets or free throws, and Nohren rounded out another ten-point quarter with a pair of rebound putbacks to give the Hawks their first lead since the middle of the second quarter as they went into the final eight minutes leading 47-45.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, as Nohren continued his dominance on the glass, the lanky junior would finish with eighteen rebounds, including seven off the offensive glass, as VGH was able to hold off Okaw Valley to advance into the championship game. Eversole would help close the deal by scoring five of his seven points in the quarter. Isaac Mahoe helped out by canning his only three of the game, as well.
Scuttled by Pirates in championship game
In one of the finest small games around, the Hawks came up just short, as Cumberland force overtime on the heels of a thirty-foot turnaround three pointer at the buzzer and won with a bull in a china shop driving layup at the end of the extra stanza to take a 63-61 win.
The main storyline of the contest was VGH’s speed and skill versus the mulish strength of the Cumberland post players, who used their brawn to bump and bother the Hawks front court for most of the night. Logan Nohren, whose Tuesday night heroics had propelled them into the championship game scored nine points in the opening quarter, but then went stone cold and couldn’t get another shot to fall for the entire contest. He was a beast on the boards, however, pulling down (unofficially) thirteen rebounds. VGH and Cumberland ended the first quarter knotted at 16. The Hawks would then dial up the pressure, as Carson Howard and Jake Eversole pilfered two steals each, allowing Villa Grove Heritage to sprint out to a 27-21 lead midway through the stanza. However, the wheels came off at that point, and the Hawks couldn’t find the range again. Cumberland took advantage to carry a 32-27 lead into the half time locker room.
The third quarter began just as the second had ended, with VGH getting good looks at the hoop, only to have the shots not drop. Meanwhile, Cumberland was under no such bad luck, and they would eventually stretch the lead to 42-27 (a 21-0 run) before Jake Eversole, who had been quiet until that point, canned a triple to make it 42-30 at about the 4:26 mark of the third. Eversole, who would finish with a game-high twenty-six points, made eight of the ten Hawks points in the quarter as the Pirates led 49-37 after three.
The VGH press began to take its toll in the fourth quarter, however as Cumberland shots that had fallen all night began to be off the mark. Twice in three possessions, the Hawks forced a ten second back court violation. Blake Smith, who would finish with ten points, continued to probe the Pirates defense, making a driving layup and canning a three before fouling out at the 4:29 mark. From there, Eversole went to work, making another three and putting constant pressure on the Cumberland defense with hard drives, many of which resulted in contact that the VGH faithful felt were fouls, and by knocking down outside jumpers when given the space. Eversole stuffed the stat sheet in the contest, having (unofficially) eight rebounds, three assists and two steals, and VGH would mount a furious comeback, outscoring the Pirates 18-3 to take a three-point lead, only to see the Pirates grab a missed free throw and pass the ball up court to Memphis Waggoner, whose turnaround 30 foot prayer was answered with one second left to tie the contest. The two exhausted teams then battled until the end when Cumberland’s Ross Hemmen, who finished with twenty-five points, bull rushed into the paint and got the finish to set the final margin. Be sure to pick up a copy of next week’s paper for coverage.