By LOGAN DARNELL
For the Coal Valley News
MILL CREEK - The Van Lady Bulldogs (11-6) took a tiresome three-hour trip to Randolph County on Feb. 2 to face Clay-Battelle Middle/High School (10-6) at the Hometown Invitational Tournament.
The Lady Dogs won the tournament in 2018 when they toppled the previously-undefeated Meadow Bridge Lady Wildcats 42-39 in the championship game. Van had been undefeated in the tournament and were the team to beat as the reigning champions.
Coach Stephanie LaFauci put it best: "My girls were nervous for the first time this year."
The team needed to wait for previous games to wrap up before they could take to the court. The ride to Tygarts Valley High School coupled with the time on the bleachers certainly did not do much to help calm any nerves.Van was missing one of their key players, junior guard Kensley White. The team's rebound specialist left the away game at Buffalo the Tuesday prior with a knee injury.
"We aren't really sure what her situation is until she gets some additional testing this week, but we hope to have her back by the end of the season," said coach LaFauci.
White is a starter and an effective two-way player for the Lady Bulldogs. Van had some trouble getting started in the early stages of the game, with the extended time sitting weighing down the team's energy.
Despite this, the team eked out a 13-12 lead after the first eight minutes. Junior point guard Karlie LaFauci and senior center Haleigh Cook scored the points for Van, starting their games with a statement. The second quarter was less desirable for Van.
The team struggled to get the offense going, and the only points scored were 2 from a single field goal by LaFauci. Fortunately for the Lady Bulldogs, Clay-Battelle only mustered 7 points.
The score at half time was 19-15, a possible lead for Van to overtake if they could find their energy.In the third quarter, both teams managed to hit the double-digits in points, with the Cook-LaFauci combination once again contributing heavily to the offense. Junior Sampson joined in for Van, hitting her mark on a 3-point attempt.
For the Lady Wildcats, junior Rylee Burnette and freshman Alivia Ammons continued scoring in each quarter, this time helped by sophomores Camren Watson and Autumn Stewart. The score was 31-31, with only the final quarter to go.The game remained ever-so-close, even in the final minutes of the game.
Both teams were weary, but were evenly matched. Burnette and Ammons once again worked to net four points for Clay-Battelle's efforts, but Van managed to pull ahead through points from LaFauci, Sampson, and seniors Casey Belcher and Jordyn Joseph.
The Van Lady Bulldogs emerged exhausted and triumphant with a 37-35 final score that brought the trophy and plaque home to Boone County to decorate Van Junior-Senior for a second year.
LaFauci and Cook were selected as members of the All-Tournament Team.Karli LaFauci led the Lady Bulldogs with 15 points. Haleigh Cook followed closely with 14 points and led the team in rebounds with 8.
For the Lady Wildcats, Alivia Ammons led with 11 points, followed by Rylee Burnette with 10.
Van travels to Lincoln County High School (9-8) on Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. for their regular schedule's final game. Clay-Battelle plays at Notre Dame (11-7) the same evening at 7 p.m.