HEBRON — John Marshall was visibly angry in the first half of what would turn out to be an improbable 53-51 Blackhawks win over Hebron in the Class 2A Hebron Sectional on Wednesday night.
Whether it were iffy foul calls that forced him to bench star forward Sarah Weston and junior center Ashley Hannon for most of the first half, or weak passes leading to a bundle of Hawks steals and easy transition baskets, the Westville coach’s irritation was well-warranted.
“So much laziness,” Marshall said. “We were telegraphing everything, throwing ill-advised passes around there. It doesn’t help, either, when Sarah isn’t out there.”
The second of Weston’s three fouls came just three minutes into the game. She went for a block from behind on Hebron’s massive center Kyra Stater’s shot in the middle of the lane. Weston seemed to touch only the ball, but a referee’s whistle blared immediately, making Marshall pull arguably his best player until the start of the second quarter.
Then, three minutes into her second shift on the floor, she tried to draw a charge on Stater. Weston is as adept at doing so, and this one, on the left block, looked to be more of the same. But it was another whistle in favor of the Hawks and Marshall, along with the Westville fans behind him, could not believe it. He had to pull Weston for the remainder of the half. The absence of Weston and Hannon – who also had three fouls – played a large factor in the Blackhawks’ 29-19 deficit.
“We can’t have Sarah sitting down that much,” Marshall said. “That just kills us. I can’t have her out of the game for six minutes at a time. You can see that. She’s everything for us. Without her, they were able to just run it up on us. We just can’t survive without Sarah on the court.”
Marshall’s anger was nothing compared to Weston’s, considering a loss would spell an end to her high school basketball career. Sitting on the bench in foul trouble was the last way she wanted to go out.
“I was so (mad),” Weston said. “Especially that third one, where it literally felt like I was waiting there for like, four minutes, ready to take that charge.”
Weston carried that frustration into Westville’s halftime meeting, channeling it into motivation for her team.
“We cannot end our senior year like this,” she preached to her teammates. “We can’t go out to a (five-win) team like this. We just can’t. There’s no way we’re ending our season like this.”
The bonafide leader she is, Weston motivated the Blackhawks and helped them come out of the gates hot in the second half. Hannon converted on a layup during their first offensive possession of the third quarter. It was on from there.
“That was our spark,” Weston said. From then on, she proved just how much her play was missed in the first half, scoring 14 of her 15 points. In back-to-back possessions, she drew a foul and converted at the stripe and nailed a long-range two-point jumper. Hustle plays such as steals and second-chance buckets propelled Westville to a 18-8 run, tying the game at 37 on a Peyton Rodgers lay-in.
The Blackhawks still trailed by six going into the fourth quarter. They needed to recreate more comeback magic and thus commenced the Sarah Weston show.
As Westville was crawling back into the game, it was down just two with three minutes left. Weston dribbled up court and saw the defense sagging, disrespecting her long-range shot. She rose and with a flick of her left wrist, swished a 3 to give the Blackhawks their first lead since the early stages of the first quarter.
Weston nailed another trey from the exact same spot at the top of the key on the ensuing possession, extending the lead to 49-47 with 2:36 remaining. She kept her left arm outstretched and let out a hyped-up scream following the shot as Hebron (5-17) was forced to call a timeout in an attempt to thwart the fierce momentum Weston just gave the Blackhawks.
After the teams traded scoreless possessions, Westville had the ball with just over a minute left. With Hebron down two, fouling was inevitable. Weston took over as the primary ball-handler, putting the Blackhawks’ fate in her hands.
With 1:06 left, she drilled a pair of free throws for a four-point lead. After a Hawks bucket, Weston found herself back at the charity stripe with another two-point lead and a chance to ice the game. She made one of two and was instrumental on a clutch defensive stop immediately after. Then it was Grace Weston’s turn to ice the game. She was scorching hot from beyond the arc, nailing 6-of-9 en route to a 20-point outing. One of the main reasons the Blackhawks were able to stay within 10 points of Hebron with her sister on the bench, she now had a chance to finish what she started at the 33-second mark.
“Grace really helped us stay in it in the first half when we didn’t have much else working for us,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure if we can make that comeback without her shooting.”
Grace nailed a free throw to make it a two-possession game, killing just about any Hawks’ hopes. Carsyn Ryan made a floater as time expired, but it didn’t mean anything. The Westons and the rest of Westville screamed in jubilation, realizing just how resilient of a comeback they just completed. “We just had so much energy, even in the locker room at halftime,” Sarah Weston said. “Nobody really had given up. Some teams when you’re down 10, you just have the mentality that the game’s over and you don’t want it to get too ugly. But we just brought a ton of energy that second half and never gave up.
That’s something I love about our team. We never quit. Never.”
Westville (15-6) will play North Judson (19-4) in Friday’s second semifinal, following South Central (17-7) and North Newton (11-11).