What the Tanagers weren't expecting was the Orioles to react by draining a torrent of 3-pointers throughout most of the first half of the game.
The Tanagers lost their chance at a berth in the State A boys' tournament, losing to Lennox 58-51.
Vermillion lost the game from 3-point range, making 4 of 13 from long range compared with 8 of 16 for Lennox. The contest was well-played, with the Tanagers committing only 9 turnovers and the Orioles committing only 5.
"I thought our kids played hard. I thought we did the things we needed to do to win," said Vermillion coach Jason Huska. "But when it comes right down to it, good teams make their free throws; good teams find ways to win, and Lennox found ways to do that. Down the stretch, I thought our kids were doing a great job defensively, but we just didn't get the ball to roll our way."
The Tanagers fell behind 20-10 after the first quarter, but fought back. Advantages of 15-10 and 14-11 in the second and third quarters sliced the deficit to only 41-39 going into the final period.
The loss dropped Vermillion to a season-ending record of 11-10, while Lennox improved to 18-5.
Vermillion made 7 of 8 free throw tries. The Tanagers connected on 20 of 35 field goal attempts, while Lennox was 16 of 32 from the field. The Orioles hit 14 of 16 free throw tries.
"They (Lennox) stepped up to the free throw line and made big free throws down the stretch and it just kind of sealed the win for them. I wished we could have not played so much catch-up throughout the whole game," coach Huska said. "We got down early, and the kids did a great job of coming back, but we just couldn't get over that hump. Good teams find a way to win, and Lennox did that."
Vermillion switched from a zone to a man-to-man defense in the second half, hoping to corner an Oriole with the ball and force a steal or an error.
At times, the Tanagers were successful. But eventually, the added defensive pressure resulted in fouls by Vermillion, and Lennox sunk nearly every free throw, which kept the Tanagers from controlling the game.
"They shot the ball extremely well. Our game plan was to make them shoot the ball from the outside," coach Huska said. "I didn't think we contested the shots as well as we could have. They made the shots, and when you give up nearly 20 free throws to a team, and they make almost all of them, it's going to be hard to win games. They stepped up and made those shots."
The 10-point deficit at the end of the first quarter forced the Tanagers to take chances the rest of the game to steal the ball away from the Orioles.
"We were about a step behind and made some fouls and they went to the free throw line and put them in. My hat is off to them, they did a nice job," coach Huska said.
The loss doesn't diminish the admiration Huska has for members of his Tanager team.
"I'm really proud of our seniors. Those seniors did a great job; they led this team and we were playing as good as we could at the right time," he said. "It's not easy to get to a region championship, especially with the strength of our district.
"We were happy to be in this spot, we hope to be in this spot more often," Huska added. "The younger players are going to learn what it takes to get to this point year after year, and hopefully that turns to off-season workouts."
Individual Stats, Vermillion: Scoring � Jeff Donnelly, 19, Jordan Boots, 17, Andrew Pier, 10, Bobby Dykstra, 3, Chonka Wilch, 2. Rebounds � Donnelly, 5. Assists � Donnelly, 4
Individual Stats, Lennox: Scoring � Jordan Vlastuin, 13, Bryant Larson, 12, Andy Kruse, 11, Jason Loe, 9, Jared Vlastuin, 9, Jared Stroman, 2. Rebounds � Jordan Vlastuin, 6. Assists � Loe, 5. Steals � Kruse, 4.
Team rebounds: Vermillion � 13, Lennox � 16. Team fouls: Vermillion � 15, Lennox � 7.