Thursday, the Tanagers proved they are close, but not quite there yet.
The Tanagers held Dell Rapids, a team that came into the state tournament with a 23-0 record and averaging 58.7 points a game, to a season-low 27 points. But the Quarrier defense held strong as well, limiting the Tanagers to just six field goals on the day in a 27-24 victory over Vermillion in the opening round Thursday afternoon at the Corn Palace.
Despite scoring just 24 points in the game, the Tanagers still had a chance to win at the end. Trailing by three with under 20 seconds left, the Tanagers took the ball up the court and tried to screen for Alicia Brown, who had already hit two three-pointers in the second half. Brown got off a shot at the buzzer, but it hit off the front of the rim.
"If we had a time out left, we could have set something up. But to their credit, they had a little screen-and-flair that we've talked about in practice," Parish noted. "Something like that comes out because our kids play every Sunday during the season, just pick-up games, and they know how to work together."
Vermillion took its only lead of the first half at the 3:10 mark of the opening quarter, when Brown converted two free throws to give the Tanagers a 4-3 lead. The margin was quickly erased, as Dell Rapids' Michelle Amundson swiped a pass and went in for a layup on Vermillion's next possession.
Amundson hit a free throw to end the first quarter and two more to start the second, giving the Quarriers an 8-5 lead. After Chelsea Gauer drained a three-pointer to tie the game at 8-8, Dell Rapids got a layup from Whitney Lickteig and a short jumper from Dannielle Bauer to lead 12-8. Brittney Babb's layup for Vermillion late in the half sent the game to the locker room at 12-10.
After the Tanagers tied the game at 12-12 on two Brown free throws, Dell Rapids put together its' biggest run of the game. Despite missing its first four free throws of the half, the Quarriers managed to score six straight points, four from Ashley Mailey, to take an 18-12 lead.
Vermillion's Annie Roche, who came in averaging nearly 15 points a game, finally broke into the scoring column with 2:56 left in the third quarter, converting two free throws. She made her first field goal 96 seconds later, pulling the Tanagers back with two, 18-16.
The duel between Roche and Amundson, the opposing point guards, was a defensive draw, according to Parish.
"Amundson and Roche, I don't know if we'll see another matchup like that for a few years," he said. "They both seemed to cancel the other out, and it had to be someone else stepping up to decide the game."
Trailing 20-16 entering the final quarter, the Tanagers made their run. Michelle Olson hit a pair of free throws and Brown drained a three-pointer to give Vermillion a 21-20 lead. Dell Rapids answered, with Mailey drilling a three-pointer from the top of the key.
Brown stepped up again two minutes later, hitting another three-pointer to put the Tanagers up 24-23, but Mailey answered again with basket just inside three-point range to put the Quarriers up for good.
"We hit the big shots when we needed to hit them," said Dell Rapids head coach Jeff Dvorak.
Mailey led Dell Rapids with 12 points. Amundson finished with nine points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Brown posted 10 points and three assists for Vermillion. Roche, who finished with four points, added five rebounds.
"You could tell (Brown) was it tonight," Dvorak said. "If we gave her two inches, she could score. But when we had the right kids in, I felt we had her under control."
Dell Rapids advanced to a semifinal meeting with Milbank on their way to ultimately being crowned State ?A' champions Saturday night. The Bulldogs pulled off the mild upset, beating McCook Central.
"This might be the best thing that happened to us," Dvorak said of the close call. "It will either walk us up, get us going, or it might test our confidence."
Vermillion was 14-8 after the loss, and viewed the game as a small step toward the program's overall goal ? perennial contention.
"We want to be like Dell Rapids, Parkston and West Central," Parish noted. "All those teams are sitting at the top every year."
The Tanagers played the McCook Central Cougars Friday at 1 p.m. in the consolation round. Despite the tough loss, Parish feels the team will bounce back.
"If this was a team of five or six seniors, I think it would be extremely difficult (Friday). We've got young kids that want to make a statement. I think our young kids will motivate us, try to get us ready for McCook Central."