Tanager comeback versus Pine Ridge falls short

If only this. If only that.

Monday's boys basketball home finale was another of those games where the Vermillion Tanagers, in position in the fourth quarter to pull out a victory, were unable to do so because of what they hadn't done an hour earlier.

If only the Tanagers had been able to make just one more of their numerous first-half shots drop, including a handful of layups that wouldn't climb up over the rim or, if they did, kept going and dropped down the other side of the basket.

If only the Tanagers had been able to slow up, just once, Pine Ridge's notorious fast-break transition offense which beat Vermillion back to the other end several times.

Pine Ridge escaped the VHS gym with a 56-55 win after leading by as many as 12 points just before halftime.

The Tanagers, now 5-14, close their regular season Friday night at Canton. The C-Hawks were 5-13 at the start of this week and had won three of their last four contests.

Vermillion then waits till next Thursday to open District 8A play as the No. 4 seed on the home court of the top seed, which could be Elk Point-Jefferson or Dakota Valley.  Thursday's winners will play for the district crown Saturday, March 6.

"The frustrating thing tonight was that, for whatever reason, we weren't ready to play," said Coach Jay Drake in a post-game interview after the Pine Ridge loss, "and that's my fault."

Pine Ridge had a warm 55 percent shooting game, but part of that can be attributed to the fact that so many of their shots were dead-on fast-break layups. The Thorpes sank 20 of their 31 two-point attempts and added four three-pointers. Meanwhile, the Tanagers fired up 20 three-point tries, hitting on only six, and finished with a 43 percent average.

Drake said in his post-game interview that, even in the third period, after his team got back into it, that he sensed his boys weren't playing with the intensity required in a match against a team like Pine Ridge.

Another factor in Pine Ridge's rolling to a lead that reached 29-17 at one point was the fact that the Thorpes dominated the boards at Vermillion's end of the basket. The Thorpes rescued 19 of the 22 available rebounds off the Tanager backboards. Vermillion did a better job off the Pine Ridge basket, grabbing 13 rebounds to the Thorpes' nine.

A 10-2 Vermillion run out of halftime reduced a 29-22 deficit to 31-30. Aaron Steele fed Cole Andre for a three-point basket, and Austin Krier canned a three from the deep left corner to tie the game at 36-36.

Pine Ridge went back up by seven twice through the first half of the fourth period, but an Andre three-pointer at the 4:05 mark, Kylen Freidel's steal and drive that resulted in two free throws at the 3:38, and a Jason Rasmussen free throw with 2:51 to play brought the Tanagers back to within 50-49.

With his team down by three again, Freidel swished two more free throws at 1:44. His steal and layup with 1:07 left gave Vermillion its first lead of the game, 53-52. But a spinning baseline drive by the Thorpes' Brad Hussmann restored his team's lead.

Freidel again took charge, drove the lane for what appeared to be another take-the-lead basket, but the official's call was an offensive foul, wiping out the basket. The Tanagers then fouled twice to get Pine Ridge to the stripe, and Orie Brown sank two with 27 seconds remaining.

Twice in the closing seconds Vermillion missed three-point shots that would have tied the score. Freidel rebounded the latter of those tries, and his put-back left the Tanagers one point shy as time expired.

Freidel finished with 18 points, three assists and four rebounds. Andre had 11 points, six boards and three assists. Krier scored 10, Steele seven, Tyler Husby six and Rasmussen three with four rebounds.

Last Thursday Madison's defending state "A" champs, after leading Vermillion by 40-29 at halftime, had only a five-point lead over the Tanagers with 4:30 left in the game, but the Bulldogs exploded to score on their next five possessions to blow open the contest again and won by 72-57.

"This was a great effort on our kids' part," Drake commented.  

Offensive rebounds were a challenge for the Tanagers, who snared only four of 20 rebound chances off their own boards. They had a 14-11 advantage off Madison's board.

The Freidel-Andre tandem produced again as they must do in order for the Tanagers to be competitive. Freidel had 19 points, eight rebounds, two steals and three assists while Andre had 18 points and three assists. Steele and Rasmussen had six points each, Husby four, Krier two and Sam Ekstrom two.  

Derrick Wiebe had 18, Mitch White 18 and Michael Sullivan 13 for Madison.

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