By TED RADICK
ARLINGTON — There’s nothing like a signature victory to fire up a basketball team, especially one that had its share of doubt surrounding it coming into the season.
“I feel like everyone thought we weren’t going to be as good as last season, because we lost so many people,” Arlington guard Dani Heaster said Thursday after the Red Devils opened the Blanchard Valley Conference portion of the their schedule with a 42-41 victory over Liberty-Benton.
“I think we just proved that we can still win, and that we’re going to be a pretty good team.”
Heaster had 13 points and forward Jordyn Webb added a team-high 15 as Arlington improved to 3-0 overall in the BVC opener for both teams. Rachel Myers had a game high 19 points for the Eagles, who dropped to 0-2 overall.
“Everyone’s attitude should probably change after this game,” Webb said. “I feel like we’re going to be more confident, and people should have a lot of faith in us this year. I feel like we proved to them that we can do it.”
The Red Devils forced seven Liberty-Benton turnovers in the fourth quarter, including a key one with less than a minute to play and Arlington up by four points. That defensive effort helped offset a pair of L-B 3-pointers in the final minute of play.
Kayla Trevino hit a trey to bring Liberty-Benton within a point at 37-36 with 39 seconds remaining in the game, but Arlington answered by hitting 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch. Webb made a pair after L-B’s Katie Simon dropped a running 12-footer with 3 seconds left that made the score 40-38 Arlington.
Despite being outrebounded 34-23 by the Eagles, Arlington forced Liberty-Benton into enough wasted possessions to grab the win.
“They had us in a scramble situation, they just defended us so well,” Liberty-Benton coach Nate Irwin said. “We didn’t have a lot of time left, and when we had to force the issue we made some careless mistakes.
“It would have been nice to have a couple of those possessions back, so we could get a good shot off instead of having them go down to the other end of the floor.”
Defense was the name of the game Thursday. Neither team shot well — Liberty-Benton was 14 of 43 from the floor and Arlington was 14 of 39 — but Arlington was able to work its way inside for some layups and short baskets when it counted.
Heaster hit a layup with 4:22 remaining to put the Red Devils in front 33-27. Myers responded with a bucket of her own to trim the Arlington lead back to four points, but Webb answered with a layup to make it 35-29 Arlington with 1:51 left in the game.
“Arlington made plays,” Irwin said. “Webb and Heaster were difficult matchups for us. We broke down defensively, but a lot of that had to do with the plays that they made. Those two are great players, and they made us look bad at times.”
Webb and Heaster each had nine points in the second half and combined for the majority of the Red Devils’ 25 points after halftime. Arlington coach Seth Newlove thought their efforts on the defensive end, combined with the work of junior post Madi Mains, were just as valuable.
“Dani Heaster and Madi Mains, we needed to stop Myers and Simon from getting open looks and those two did a great job,” he said. “Both defended like crazy, and the other girls were intelligent enough to help when needed, and I think that’s where some of those turnovers came from.”
Myers shot 6 of 20 from the field and Simon, who had a game-high 15 rebounds, was 4 of 11.
“I’m excited about this win, this feels good,” Newlove said. “Every day’s a challenge, and these girls responded. Dani Heaster, she’s coming of age.”
Arlington, the defending Division IV champion, has now won 28 consecutive games and hasn’t lost on its home court since a Dec. 3, 2009, loss to Pandora-Gilboa.
“I’m as excited as I’ve been for a long time about winning a basketball game,” Newlove said. “I didn’t know how we’d be this season. We lost everything, everybody knows that. I don’t know if people thought we’d be down or not; I’m not sure I know.
“But, I think we’re starting to get there. The girls are starting to understand how hard we need to play at the varsity level. If we play that hard we’ll at least compete in every game, I know that.”
For Irwin and the Eagles, it’s back to work after two tough losses, including a one-point loss to St. Wendelin on Tuesday.
“Basketball is a long season,” Irwin said. “We’ve had two disappointing losses, but you can’t take credit away from the teams that have beaten us. They’ve earned two victories on us, that’s for sure.
“We have 20 games to look forward to, and we’ll find out a lot about our kids.”
Trevino 2-0—5, Kotey 1-1—3, Myers 6-6—19, Simon 4-3—12, Lishawa 1-0—2,. TOTALS: 14-43 10-13—41.
Webb 6-3—15, Jolliff 0-3—3, O’Rear 3-0—7, Heaster 4-5—13, Mains 0-2—2, Dillon 1-0—2. TOTALS: 14-39 13-17— 42.
Liberty-Benton 8 6 8 19 — 41
Arlington 10 7 12 13 — 42
3-Point GOALS: Liberty-Benton 3-15 (Trevino, Simon & Myers); Arlington 1-9 (O’Rear).
Rebounds: Liberty-Benton 34 (Simon 15); Arlington 23 (Mains 6, Insley 5).
turnovers: Liberty-Benton 14, Arlington 10.
junior varsity: Liberty-Benton, 30-27, OT.
By TED RADICK