The Lady Tanagers didn't deserve the fate that befell them Tuesday night.
Vermillion's girls basketball team was within four seconds of a stunning upset over a team to whom they had lost by 26 points less than a month earlier.
They had a one-point lead and possession of the ball.
But still they lost to Madison, 49-48.
When Coach Nick Mayer said last weekend, after his club had taken Class 4A Sioux City East well into the fourth quarter before sustaining a narrow loss, that "we continue to get better with each game," he wasn't just spouting "Coachspeak." His Tanagers fought Madison tooth and nail for 32 minutes Tuesday night, but still a magical win didn't happen.
Vermillion led throughout the first half, by as many as seven points twice, and Madison's first lead didn't come till 32 seconds remained in the half.
The Tanagers were getting good looks at wide-open shots in the first half. If only they had been able to shoot just one or two percentage points better, the last-second drama might never have happened, but the three layups they couldn't get to fall in the first half, a pair of last-minute free throws in the fourth quarter that were missed, one play here, one play there — it all added up to a Madison miracle instead of a Tanager triumph.
The Bulldogs had to play the entire third quarter without their 6'4" junior giant, Christa Paul, who got herself into foul trouble just seconds into the second half. After leading at halftime by 21-20, Madison led after three by 38-36.
Two three-pointers by Sophie Nehlich-Arobba erased Vermillion's biggest deficit of the night — four points. A turn-around shot by Paul was answered by a steal and subsequent layup by Sophie for a 44-44 tie.
The teams exchanged turnovers until each club sank two free throws with 1;24 and 1:04 left — the first two by Sophie, the answering pair by Madison's Cassie Potter.
Sierra Allen made one of two with 51 seconds left, and Beth Szymonski did the same with 376 seconds to go. At the 0:22 mark Paul made one of two free throws. The Tanagers lost the ball out of bounds in going for the rebound of Paul's miss, but Madison's shot missed and Lexi Regnerus snared the game's most important rebound for Vermillion.
The Tanagers had the ball beneath the Madison basket with four seconds left and had to only in-bound the ball and wait to be fouled. But the in-bounds passer tried to heave the ball over the Bulldog defense to a waiting teammate near midcourt. Instead, Madison's Potter intercepted the high arching pass and was fouled. She coolly sank the first shot to tie the game and the second shot to win it.
A desperation Tanager shot fell far short as the game ended.
Sophie Nehlich-Arobba had 14 points, Allen 11, Hannah Nehlich-Arobba eight, Regnerus six, Morgan Erickson four, Szymonski three and Sarah Day two for Vermillion. Paul led Madison with 13 points, but the Bulldogs also had three others in double figures as her teammates stepped up during her foul trouble.
The Tanagers had 21 first-half rebounds even though Paul was on the court and finished the game with 35 boards, led by Sophie Nehlich-Arobba and Day with six each and Erickson, Szymonski and Allen with five apiece.
Last Saturday the Tanagers lost to unbeaten, top-ranked Parkston 51-34 after trailing by only 20-12 at halftime. Erickson and Regnerus with seven points each were Vermillion's high scorers.
Earlier in the week the Tanagers led at Sioux City East 43-42 after three quarters before free throws allowed the Black Raiders to win by 66-60 with a 24-17 fourth-period advantage. Regnerus had 12 points, Hannah Nehlich-Arobba 10, Sophie Nehlich-Arobba nine, Erickson eight, Day eight and Allen seven in a well-balanced Tanager offense. Sophie also had eight assists, and Allen, Erickson and Day had four boards each.
"We played a very good game against a 4A school," Mayer said. "I thought our kids did a nice job of eliminating their transition game and forcing them to try to beat us in the half-court."
The Tanagers play at home Tuesday in a girls-boys doubleheader with Elk Point-Jefferson.