Tanagers provide thrills at State A; Luitjens: "I can’t be more proud of what the girls accomplished

Tanagers provide thrills at State A; Luitjens: "I can't be more proud of what the girls accomplished this year" Pandemonium best describes the scene in the Watertown Civic Arena when a 3-point shot by Jaclyn Powell with two seconds left in the game propelled Vermillion to a 46-45 victory over West Central in semi-final action of the State A basketball tournament Nov. 17. The thrilling victory sent Tanager fans pouring onto to the arena's floor. Congratulating Powell (second from left) are Tessa Tuetken (42) and Sarah Mollet (55). Other team members rolling on the floor in pure joy are Leslie Larson, Carey Engstrom and Abby Moore. The win placed the Tanagers in the Nov. 18 championship game against Sisseton. Read a complete report of the tournament action by Plain Talk sportswriter Jim Prosser on page 1B. (Photo courtesy of Watertown Public Opinion) by Jim Prosser The Vermillion Tanager girls� basketball team made history in more ways than one this past weekend in Watertown.

Not only did they appear in their first-ever Class 11A state tournament, they also proved to be true warriors, not novices, on the court, and provided spectators from across South Dakota with some of the most thrilling basketball action of the three-day event.

When the final buzzer sounded Saturday night, the Tanagers found themselves runners-up to a tough Sisseton Redmen team.

No one will question, however, the Vermillion team�s ability to compete at a championship level.

The excitement began Thursday night, when Vermillion faced the Parkston Lady Trojans.

Vermillion 48

Parkston, 43

Tessa Tuetken sank two free throws with just eight seconds left in the game to help insure the Tanagers� Thursday victory.

Her free throws gave Vermillion a 4-point score advantage so Parkston couldn�t tie the game with a field goal in the game�s final seconds.

The Tanagers held on in the second half to top Parkston 48-43 Nov. 16 in the first round of the state tournament.

The VHS varsity had led by 12 going into the final period.

The victory moved the Tanagers into semifinal action in the state tournament Friday night. The VHS varsity improved its record to 15-5, while Parkston dropped to 18-4.

Leslie Larson scored 9 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. She grabbed eight of those rebounds in just the first half.

�Leslie Larson had her best game of the year against Parkston,� said VHS varsity Coach Lance Luitjens. �She was grabbing every rebound in sight! She also added some scoring punch with Sarah Mollet on the inside that really hurt the Trojans.�

The Tanagers took the lead 9-3 after the first quarter, and margins of 12-11 and 13-8 in the second and third quarters boosted the lead to 34-22 going into the final period.

The Tanagers picked up the victory in spite of committing 23 turnovers.

�This game was a real team effort,� said Coach Luitjens. �We did the job defensively. We jumped out to a big lead there in the second half and almost lost our poise, but we made the free throws at the end when it counted!�

The VHS varsity made 1 of 3 3-point attempts and made 15 of 23 free throw tries. The Tanagers hit 15 of 30 field goal attempts, while Parkston was 13 of 41 from the field. Parkston sank 3 of 8 3-point tries and made 8 of 14 free throw attempts.

The VHS varsity held a 38-17 edge on the boards.

The winners needed good efforts from several performers.

�Ashley Bjorkman also contributed to the victory over Parkston by scoring eleven points and grabbing eight rebounds,� Coach Luitjens said.

Individual Stats, VHS varsity: Scoring � Bjorkman, 11, Mollet, 10, Larson, 9, Meggie Donnelly, 5, Jaclyn Powell, 5, Tuetken, 4, Carey Engstrom, 4. Rebounds � Larson, 11, Bjorkman, 8. Assists � Powell, 6. Steals � Donnelly, 2.

Individual Stats, Parkston: Scoring � Amber Powell, 23, Brittnee Powell, 12, Amanda Kurtenbach, 4, Kassy Laber, 2, Trisha Koehn, 2. Rebounds � A. Powell, 7. Steals� A. Powell, 3.

Team fouls: VHS varsity � 14, Parkston � 20.

The victory placed the Tanagers in semi-final action Friday night against arch-rival West Central. The match-up likely will go down as one of the most thrilling in the history of the tournament.

Vermillion 46

West Central 45

Vermillion�s victory over West Central came with two ticks left on the game clock.

Powell caught a cross-court pass from Bjorkman and fired up a 3-pointer at the buzzer. The play started when West Central�s Katie Krauth missed her second free throw and Bjorkman got the rebound with just four seconds left in the game as the Vermillion Tanagers rallied to edge the Trojans 46-45 Nov. 17 in the tournament�s semi-finals.

The VHS varsity had trailed by seven at halftime.

�Jaclyn Powell was the hero of this game,� said Coach Luitjens of the clinching moment. �She got to hit the shot that every kid dreams about hitting. But I�d give her the game ball more for her defense on Katie Krauth (20+ points per game) than anything else. Both she and Tessa Tuetken really got Krauth frustrated holding her to only one bucket in the first half.�

The win over West Central sent the Tanagers to the championship bracket in their very appearance at the state tournament. The VHS varsity improved its season mark to 16-5, while West Central fell to 17-7.

The Tanagers fell behind 15-6 after the first quarter, but advantages of 14-12 and 16-7 in the second and third quarters gave them a lead of 36-34 going into the final period.

�I will never grow tired of watching the replays of this game,� said Coach Luitjens. �From Bjorkman hitting big threes to Engstrom knocking down two big free throws to Powell�s last second heroics thanks to the officials not giving me a timeout ? all those moments will be permanently ingrained in my basketball memory bank.�

Donnelly helped to keep the score close by scoring 10 of her 12 points in the first half.

In the final two quarters, Bjorkman made three of her four 3-pointers to help keep the game close to the end.

The VHS varsity hit 5 of 16 3-point attempts and hit 3 of 5 free throw tries. The Tanagers made 19 of 48 field goal attempts, while West Central was 18 of 34 from the field. West Central hit 6 of 14 3-pointers and connected on 3 of 8 free throw attempts.

Individual Stats, VHS varsity: Scoring � Bjorkman, 12, Donnelly, 12, Mollet, 10, Engstrom, 9, Powell, 3. Rebounds � Mollet, 6, Engstrom, 6. Assists � Powell, 3.

Individual Stats, West Central: Scoring � Katie Krauth, 13, Ashley Snyder, 10, Kira Mueller, 9, Liz Jarding, 6, Kristen McMahon, 6, Jessie Moeller, 1. Rebounds � Snyder, 5. Assists � Moeller, 6.

Team rebounds: VHS varsity � 28, West Central � 22. Team fouls: VHS varsity � 12, West Central � 9.

The Tanagers couldn�t relish the victory for long. They had to prepare for a tough challenge Saturday night.

Vermillion 53

Sisseton 60

After three hard-fought periods, the Vermillion Tanagers finally saw victory slip away and were defeated by the Sisseton Redmen 60-53 Nov. 18 in the tournament�s championship game.

The teams battled back and forth until Sisseton took control in the final period. The VHS varsity had led by six after the third quarter.

Although defeated by Sisseton, the Tanagers claimed the runner-up crown of the state Class 11A tournament. The loss dropped the VHS varsity to a record of 16-6, while Sisseton improved to 22-2.

Bjorkman scored 25 points and grabbed five rebounds. Sisseton�s Courtney Grimsrud dominated the boards with 12 rebounds. She scored 27 points.

�Ashley (Bjorkman) played a great game offensively with some big buckets to get us back in the lead,� said Coach Luitjens. �Carey Engstrom played her heart out on both ends of the floor and made some huge baskets down the stretch. The rest of the team also played hard, but our shots didn�t drop at the end.�

The Tanagers led 10-9 after the opening period, trailed 24-20 at halftime, and then led 40-34 after the third quarter.

�We thought we could defend their tall center better than we did,� said Coach Luitjens.

In the third period, Bjorkman scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers, and Mollet scored 6 points, including a buzzer beater off a steal to build a 6-point advantage.

In the final period, Grimsrud scored 10 points for Sisseton, going 6-6 from the free throw line, and Evert added 6 for the Redmen, sinking 2 of 2 from the charity stripe. The Redmen were 16 for 16 in free throw shooting in the fourth quarter.

The VHS varsity connected on 3 of 8 3-pointers and connected on 10 of 14 from the line. The Tanagers made 17 of 38 field goal attempts, while Sisseton was 22 of 40 from the field. Sisseton didn�t attempt any 3-point shots, and made 16 of 20 free throw tries.

Even with the loss, the Tanagers had several good individual efforts.

�We beat two of the best teams in the state to get into this game,� Coach Luitjens said. �The girls never quit, and Sisseton never did, either. We gave it everything we had against Sisseton. Unfortunately, Sisseton was just a little better than we were Saturday night. Grimsrud was a little too much for us to handle and they hit their free throws in pressure situations. Sisseton has a great future ahead in its girls� basketball program.�

Individual Stats, VHS varsity: Scoring � Bjorkman, 25, Engstrom, 10, Mollet, 8, Larson, 6, Donnelly, 2, Moore, 2. Rebounds � Bjorkman, 5, Engstrom, 4. Assists � Powell, 5.

Individual Stats, Sisseton: Scoring � Grimsrud, 27, Evert, 14, Ana Brockhaus, 9, Ashley Harles, 8, Angela Thelin, 2. Rebounds � Grimsrud, 12. Assists � Evert, 3.

Team rebounds: VHS varsity � 25, Sisseton � 26. Team fouls: VHS varsity � 20, Sisseton � 17.

�I can�t be more proud of what the girls accomplished this year,� Coach Luitjens said. �They have overcome obstacles from day one and just kept getting better and better.

�We will sure miss our seniors next year,� he added. �It�s tough to replace the leadership that Powell, Larson and Mollet provided. But once you get a taste of the state tournament, you want to come back for more. I think the Tanagers will be ready for the challenge next year. As for this year, they have made Vermillion history and have created memories to last a lifetime.�

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