HEYWORTH — The calendar said November, but the intensity of play said super-sectional as the Heyworth High School girls basketball team hustled to a 67-56 victory over Eureka on Thursday to take possession of the McLean County Traveling Trophy for the first time.
The hosts, led by Stephanie Brown’s 24 points, shared the ball well enough to shoot 46.8 percent from the field.
“I didn’t have to motivate them,” said Heyworth coach Tony Griffin, whose Elite Eight team suffered two of its four losses last year against Eureka. “They’ve been thinking about this for a long time.
“I thought we got a little impatient at times in the fourth quarter. We’ve just got to take care of the basketball. We made free throws.”
Heyworth improved to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in the Heart of Illinois Conference while Eureka fell to 5-2 and 2-1.
Brown helped Heyworth outscore its guest at the free throw line, 20-8, by sinking 7 of 9 freebies.
“This is our last year so this means a lot,” said Brown, one of four Heyworth seniors. “A major key was to play as a team, work together and pass the ball around.”
The ball found its way to Heyworth’s Riley Ryburn for 14 points, Amber Tomlin for 13 and Chassidy Hays for 12. Hays also grabbed nine rebounds.
Meanwhile, Heyworth’s defense kept tabs on Eureka stars Tessa Leman and Natalie Bardwell long enough to hold them to 21 and 19 points, respectively. Leman’s 10 rebounds helped her team gain a 38-34 edge on the boards.
“Heyworth is a great team,” said Eureka coach Jerry Prina. “They shot really well. We did not shoot very well (at 33.8 percent). We had a lot of shots (62 to Heyworth’s 47).
“At the end of the game, there were 10 or 11 straight possessions where I said to the official, ‘if this goes, I want a timeout.’ It would go in and out or hit the iron.”
After falling behind, 35-23, in the third quarter, Eureka inched within 48-45 after a Lauren Ausmus put-back with 7:13 remaining. Brown answered with a fastbreak laypup and a three-point play to push the gap back to 53-45 with 5:39 showing. Eureka never got within four the rest of the way.
“We just had so much to battle back from tonight,” Prina said. “We were never really able to get into our game.”
Tomlin made sure of that with several savvy steals including one immediately after a Hays basket to make it 21-7. Tomlin also had two steals in the final 1:44.
“That’s her game,” said Griffin, whose team won the turnover battle 18-16. “She’s our leader. She’s a cerebral player. She’s not going to get flustered.”
Heyworth strengthened its grip on the game’s momentum when Shae Ruppert sank a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to make it 29-21.
Eureka missed eight of its first 10 shots and committed five turnovers while falling behind, 14-4.
“You’ve just got to play hard and not worry about the score,” Brown said, “because if we work as a team, we’re going to come out on top.”