WEST FRANKFORT — After handing Sesser-Valier-Waltonville its first loss of the season Saturday, Herrin held off Pinckneville, 39-35, Tuesday to the take the lead at the 22nd Annual West Frankfort Mid-Winter Classic.
"We’re finally healthy," said Herrin coach Chris Roberts. "We haven’t been healthy since the first of the December and another thing is being a new coach we are finally starting to believe in the new process and playing hard."
Herrin’s Ashton Hawk came into the game needing six steals to break the season-record set by Austyn Ridings during the 2009-10 season. The sophomore got the record-breaker with 2:51 remaining in the game and then added two more in the next 1:27 to seal the win and up her season record total to 132. As a freshman Hawk only had 27 steals as a part-time player.
"Most of those steals were how the game played out and the defense we set up in helped me out," Hawk said. "My parents told me going into the game to just play how I normally play and everything will work itself out."
Herrin (6-13) scored the first seven points of the game on a layup by Hawk, a bucket from under the basket by Marissa Russell and a 3-pointer by Madison Russell in the first 1:57. Hawk finished with nine points.
The Panthers (11-11), who had opened the tournament with a 54-37 win over West Frankfort, finally got their first points at the 3:07 mark when Bella Pasquino drew a shooting foul and split her attempts.
Herrin expanded its lead to 12 points on layups by Marissa Russell and Grace Lehnhoff and a jumper Morgan McKinnies with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter.
"We have to hang our hats on guarding and turning them over and part of getting into our press is making shots, but because we don’t shoot it very well (11-of-45 from the field and 2-of-8 from beyond the arc) we aren’t built to overcome deficits," said Pinckneyville coach Alan Engelhardt. "We scored a little bit to get back into it three times, but we have to play both sides of the ball and it was not a very good effort on our part."
Pasquino scored on two putbacks to close out the first quarter and split a pair of free throws to open the second quarter to cut into the lead. Kenzie Rushing continued the run with a layup before Haleigh Kling split a pair of free throws.
Pascquino then scored on another putback while being fouled and completed the three-point play to cut the lead to one with four minutes left in the half. Pasquino had a game high 15 points.
Madison Russell then snapped the Panthers 11-0 run with a 3-pointer from the right corner. After Megan Breslin made two free throws to get two of those points back, Marissa Russell put back her own missed shot and Hawk sank a 3-pointer with 1:15 remaining to give the Tigers a 21-14 lead at the half.
The Panthers came out of the locker room on a roll, starting with a 3-pointer by Pasquino. After Madison Russell scored on a layup Breslin stole the ball and fed Rushing for a layup and followed with a basket of her own to cut the lead to two with 3:57 remaining in the third quarter.
The Tigers rallied back once again to up its lead to seven, but a putback by Rushing with 23 seconds left cut the lead to five heading into the fourth quarter.
After Herrin increased its lead back to seven on a layup by Hawk, the Panthers made its final run cutting the lead to one with 3:47 remaining on two baskets by Rushing and a steal and layup by Aubrey Bruns.
McKinnies then drew a foul 25 seconds later on a 3-point shot attempt and made two of her three free throw attempts. Hawk then made her record-breaking steal followed by two more on the next two possessions as the Tigers increased their lead to six with 37 seconds remaining.
In the second game, Sesser-Valier-Waltonville trailed West Frankfort in the second quarter, but held the Lady Redbirds to two points in the third quarter and held on to even its record at 1-1 in the tournament with a 50-46 win. Cali Wright led West Frankfort with 15 points and Brooke Wilderman led the Devils with 13.
Herrin plays Thursday at 7 p.m. against West Frankfort after Sesser-Valier-Waltonville opens the session against Pinckneyville at 5:30 p.m.