BY DEAN HOCKNEY
Ask any coach and they will tell you executing the fundamentals will win teams more games than it will lose them. Saturday afternoon in the championship game of the girls Howard County Basketball Tournament, Western executed the fundamental task of hitting free throws and took home its first county trophy since 2006 with a 49-32 victory over Northwestern.
In the game, the Lady Tigers hit 14 of 15 (93-percent) of its free throws in what became a big difference in the outcome. On the other side of the floor, the Lady Tigers hit just 7 of 16 (44-percent) freebies, including missing the front end of three consecutive one-and-one opportunities in the final quarter.
“There weren’t too many things about this game I wasn’t pleased with, in terms of our overall ball control, our ball handling and our free throw shooting,” said Western coach Chris Keisling. “We were able to establish some things on the inside too – that has been a little bit of a bug-a-boo for us in the past.”
In large part, the inside game came courtesy of Amber Fernung, who helped put the game away with eight points in the decisive fourth quarter.
“She played tremendous,” said Keisling with a big smile. “She went to the block; she hit free throws; she was a huge factor down the stretch. Her fourth quarter is what allowed us to seal the game.”
Indiana All-Star candidate Nicole Rogers – who was stymied in the semi-final after picking up two quick fouls – showed why she will be an NCAA Division I player next year at IUPUI. Rogers hit three big 3-pointers in the first half, and by the end of the third quarter, she had 19 points – one short of the entire Northwestern team.
“Nicole is a tremendous ball player,” said Keisling. “She has a reputation of being a shooter, which she is at nearly 50-percent a ball game, but the one thing she does extremely well is rebound – she has length on defense. She can handle the ball and has a lot of other parts to her game. She is a legitimate all-star candidate. She is content to do whatever she can to make this team a winner.”
Along with Rogers 19 points, Fernung added 10 and Carley O’Neal dropped in six for Western. For Northwestern, Kylie Ballard led the team with 14 points.
The Lady Panthers (10-4, 4-0 in conference) must now maintain its focus for a key Mid-Indiana Conference road game with Hamilton Heights (12-3, 3-0 in conference) tonight. Northwestern (5-7) will host Lewis Cass Saturday.
SPORTS JOURNAL ALL-TOURNEY TEAM
(MVP) Nicole Rogers – Western
Carley O’Neal – Western
Amber Fernung – Western
Kylie Ballard – Northwestern
Brittany Neeley – Eastern
Mone’y Black – Taylor
The Eastern Comets saw all of its points come from its starting five in a 51-43 win over Taylor. Like the championship game, free throws were the major difference as the Lady Comets hit 18 of 22 while Taylor only shot five, hitting four. In the crucial fourth quarter, Eastern calmly hit 11 of 12 from the charity stripe to seal the game.
Brittany Neely, who scored 30 points in the semi-final against Western, again led the Comets with 13 points. Twin sister Bethany added 12, while Taylor Holiday and Amanda Alexander each had 11. Mone’y Black led the Titans with 12 points.
Eastern (11-3) returns to action Thursday on the road at Southwood (3-8). Taylor (4-11) hosts Madison-Grant (7-7) tonight at 7:30 at Center Court.