The Crimson Flashes stopped Vermilion cold Friday night, winning 54-48 on the road to pull within one game of the Sailors in the division. It was Willard’s 10th straight win overall, and it was built on defense.
The Flashes held the Sailors to 23 percent shooting from the field, and Friday marked the first time Vermilion scored fewer than 50 points all season.
“I credit a lot of our length and our guys are starting to buy in,” Willard coach Joe Bedingfield said. “When we defend the way we’re supposed to and buy in to team defense and have five guys defending, we can be a really tough team to beat.
“Our kids played outstanding and I’m really proud of them.”
Willard never trailed while improving to 15-3 overall and 8-2 in the SBC Bay. Vermilion fell to 16-3, 9-1, and has to play at Margaretta (14-4, 7-3) on Saturday night.
“We didn’t talk about it all week,” Bedingfield said about the division race. “We know we didn't win anything tonight. I knew we could do it. I put a word on the board and that was courage. They had nothing to fear tonight. Just go out there and play fearless. I thought our kids did that.”
Willard never trailed and set the tone by holding the Sailors to 4 of 17 shooting from the field in a choppy first quarter that saw airballs from both teams and 11 total turnovers. Things would get no better for Vermilion in the final three quarters.
“For some reason we changed our shots a lot tonight when we got up to the rim,” Vermilion coach Kurt Habermehl said.
That had something to do with Willard’s length, which included the long arms of 6-foot-7 sophomore Terry Baldridge Jr. He followed Vermilion’s leading scorer, Mason Montgomery, everywhere he went and held Montgomery to 9 points — 11 below his average.
“He’s 6-7 but with his length he’s like 6-11,” said Willard junior guard Cooper Parrott, who scored his 1,000th career point in the win. “He’s not known for his defense but when coach challenges him he steps up. And Myles (Pinkston) did a great job slowing down (Jonah) Pfeil.”
Baldridge contributed 14 points including a jump shot that gave the Flashes a 48-43 lead with 2:49 to play, halting what little late momentum Vermilion was building.
“That was the biggest difference,” Bedingfield said, referencing Baldridge’s defense. “Early in the year he was very concerned about his offense but after Christmas he’s been buying into being a defensive stopper. I don’t know what Mason Montgomery ended up with, but he’s one of the leading scorers in the league. That’s a credit to Terry.”
Baldridge did not guard Montgomery in the teams’ first meeting this season, a 69-53 win that was tied at 30-all at halftime.
Montgomery did not score in the fourth quarter Friday and the Sailors looked out of sync for much of the game. Starting point guard Seth Hurd hurt his hip early in the game and played only a few minutes in the first half. He scored just two points and Pfeil finished with six.
Parrott, who played through foul trouble the entire game, finished with 17 points while reaching 1,000 for his high school career. Senior point guard Brevon Polachek finished with 13 points — eight of them coming in the fourth quarter.
Two Parrott free throws with 35 seconds to play gave Willard a 52-48 lead. Pinkston then blocked a shot in a wild flurry on the Vermilon end and Polacheck’s layup sealed the victory.
“Very excited for our kids,” Bedingfield said. “We had a lead late up here last year so it’s nice that we finished the job. They’re starting to believe they’re a very good basketball team.”
The Flashes seemed to enjoy their new roles as defensive stoppers.
“I didn’t think anyone expected us to play defense like we did, but we had guys selling out and we’ve been holding teams under 50,” Parrott said.
Willard overcame early turnover issues (12 in the first half) to build a 29-23 lead through two quarters. The Flashes maintained their lead through the third quarter and pushed it to 44-37 on a Polachek basket with 5:09 to play. They made it 49-39 when Baldridge struck from close range after Davon Triplett made a nice pass in the lane.
WILLARD (15-3, 8-2)
Brevon Polachek 4-5—13, Terry Baldridge Jr. 7-0—14, Myles Pinkston 2-0—4, Davon Triplett 1-0—2, Cooper Parrott 5-4—17, Joey Holida 0-2—2, Jerrett Sowers 1-0—2. TOTALS 20-11—54.
VERMILION (16-3, 9-1)
Jonah Pfeil 2-2—6, Seth Hurd 0-2—2, Mason Montgomery 3-2—9, Luke Pena 1-1—3, Reese Miller 6-3—18, Zach Kovacs 1 2—4, Sterling Benko 2-0—6. TOTALS 15-12—48.
Willard 13 16 7 18 — 54
Vermilion 12 11 10 15 — 48
3-point FGs: (W) Parrott 3; (V) Montgomery, Miller 3, Benko 2
JV: Vermilion, 58-42