Jan. 17—DANVILLE — Music played over the Mary Miller Gymnasium speakers, and fans' attention was locked on the DACCtron as the Hoopeston Area boys' basketball starting lineup was announced before the Cornjerkers' Vermilion County Tournament pool-play game against Georgetown-Ridge Farm on Tuesday evening.
Wyatt Eisenmann was the first to hop off the bench and run through the line of teammate high-fives, followed by Trenton Montez, Mason Rush, Ethan Steiner and Kendrick Sigerill.
There was a glaring missing piece. It was Owen Root, the team's star senior who scored a game-high 25 points in its first game of the tournament three days prior. He was in sweatpants at the head of the bench.
Root tweaked his ankle during Saturday's game, and he's just now starting to put pressure on it.
Coach Kevin Root said Owen is "iffy" for Thursday's game against Oakwood. Owen's absence Tuesday provided his teammates an opportunity to shine, and shine they did in a 63-36 win against the Buffaloes.
"It sucks that he's out, but I was excited to see who was going to step up and get the points, rebounds and blocked shots that were missing," Kevin Root said of the Cornjerkers.
It didn't take long to find who was going to fill those shoes. In the opening two minutes of the game, the 6-foot-3 Sigerill already had four points from bullying his way through the post, and Rush had drilled a pair of three-pointers.
Root said Sigerill has been "dominating" when he gets the ball down low, and Rush has been "pretty automatic" from behind the arc lately. Those two paced the Cornjerkers (16-6) Tuesday with 17 and 15 points, respectively.
Trenton Montez, who Root said is "coming along strong" as the team's point guard, chipped in 12 points, and Ethan Steiner, who started in place of Owen Root, added nine points.
"We talked about it (Monday night) that we needed someone to step up and fill in," Sigerill said. "We tried to have everybody chip in to make up for Owen because that's a lot to make up for. We all just tried to fill his shoes. It was a team effort."
Tuesday's outcome against the Buffaloes (4-17) never seemed out of question. Hoopeston held an 11-point lead after the first quarter, which stretched to 14 at halftime, 22 by the end of the third quarter and 27 at the very end.
Kevin Root said the key to his team's early success this season has been its experience and chemistry. Six of the 13 Cornjerkers on the roster are seniors, and four of the seniors are starters. This is their last chance to take home a county title.
"That's all we want," Sigerill said. "Since last year, we've been talking about it. This year, with all the people and pieces we have returning, this is probably the group that has the best shot to do it."
Hoopeston will play Oakwood, also 2-0 in pool play, at 8 p.m. Thursday for a spot in that championship game. The Cornjerkers have had that game circled on their calendar since the Comets beat them 68-52 last Wednesday.
"I always talk about when I played at Hoopeston," Root said. "We weren't in the county back then, and we had to start our own tournament, so I've never won it. I'd love to win it as a coach. They always give me a hard time, saying, 'That was 40 years ago.' It's good to go back and forth, but they're focused this week.Whether Owen's playing or not on Thursday, we're going to give Oakwood everything they can handle."
Comets hang on. Step one for Oakwood to escape Mary Miller Gym with a 54-49 win against Armstrong-Potomac Tuesday night was accepting that it wasn't going to be anything like last time.
The Comets defeated the Trojans 79-40 Dec. 15 at home after one of their best games shooting the ball in coach Jeff Mandrell's recent memory. After that game, Armstrong coach Wade Rogers insisted his team was better than what it showed.
The Trojans proved their coach right Tuesday, going back and forth with Oakwood all night and keeping the game within reach until the final buzzer.
"We knew they would really be ready to play," Mandrell said. "Those games worry you a little when you beat a team like that at home and shoot well. It was a challenge. ... You get in these tournaments, and anything can happen. It's almost like survive and advance. We're just happy to get the win."
The Comets (16-5) shot the ball well early, jumping out to an 18-6 lead after the first quarter against the Trojans (10-10).
Alec Harrison scored a team-high 16 points for Oakwood, with Brody Taflinger (13 points) and Jackson Dudley (10 points) joining him in double figures.
A key reason why the Trojans kept it close throughout? Kollin Asbury. The senior forward poured in a game-high 31 points, but the Comets went on a small run late to seal the victory.
Oakwood's exclamation point on the game came as the clock ticked under 30 seconds. Alec Harrison slipped behind the Trojans' last-ditch defensive effort, dunked the ball to give the Comets a 52-44 lead and let out a scream as he landed.
"It felt so good," Harrison said as a huge smile came across his face. "It's an unexplainable feeling. You just get so much emotion and kind of lose control of yourself for about five seconds."
Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin has some of the most dynamic offensive talent around, but it was the Blue Devils' defense that helped BHRA earn a 44-25 win against Salt Fork in Tuesday night's final game.
"It was a defensive game," BHRA coach Gary Tidwell said. "Salt Fork was really physical, and we haven't seen that kind of physical play this year. ... Playing a team that was as physical as they were is going to be an advantage.
If it wasn't for Hayden Chew's layup with five seconds left in the first quarter, BHRA (18-3) would have held the Storm (10-9) scoreless in the opening frame. Instead, the Blue Devils settled for an 11-2 lead and extended it to 24-4 by halftime.
Keison Peoples led BHRA with 11 points and Ayden Ingram had 10 points, while Micah Stanford and Caden Keleminic each had nine ponits. Jameson Remole scored nine points to pace Salt Fork.
BHRA will play Westville at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for a spot in the championship game. If they make it there, they'll be playing for their fifth consecutive Vermilion County title.