For nearly two quarters the Vermillion Tanagers gave top-seeded Elk Point-Jefferson all it could handle in the District 8A semifinals on the Huskies' home court last Thursday.
However, a costly 9-0 surge to close the first half brought EP-J back from a seven-point deficit and into the lead. A similar fate befell the Tanagers in the last half of the third quarter as the Huskies went from a two-point lead to a 12-point advantage at the end of the period.
The Tanagers recovered from the first EP-J explosion, but the second one was fatal as the Huskies maintained their comfortable lead through the final eight minutes and put a period at the end of the Vermillion season, 55-45.
Cole Knippling's tall, talented, physical and, unfortunately, young Huskies advanced to the district title game against upstart Beresford, which edged No. 2-seed Dakota Valley, 64-62, in the other semifinal. In Saturday's championship contest EP-J captured the district crown.
For the Tanagers the semifinal loss left them with a 6-15 record for the year. Four of those six victories came in the first five weeks of the campaign when they won four of their first six contests. Their rugged schedule got the best of them after that, and Vermillion found itself on the short end in 13 of its last 15 games.
Next November the Tanagers won't be starting totally from scratch as they had to do beginning with last year's season after a completely senior-class squad graduated in 2008. But Coach Jay Drake will see only one starter, Tyler Husby, returning for another year along with "sixth man" Austin Krier, who was the first player off the bench this winter.
Husby's fellow juniors Jaron Sorensen and Marquis Knight, sophomores Nile Morecraft and Riley Vlasman and freshman Tanner Anderson were also on the varsity roster this year. A sophomore-dominated junior varsity squad will send up the balance of Drake's roster for the 2010-11 season.
Seeing their high school careers conclude with the loss to EP-J were seniors Aaron Steele, Jason Rasmussen, Cole Andre, Kylen Freidel and Sam Ekstrom as well as Erik Ustad, who sustained a season-ending injury in the first game of the year in December.
Vermillion, thanks to a buzzer-beating basket by Rasmussen, led 14-12 at the end of the first quarter of Thursday's semifinal. Rasmussen and Andre started the next period with field goals. After Krier scored a bucket and Andre potted a pair of three-pointers, the Tanagers were looking good with a 26-19 lead. But that's when the Huskies roared from behind and led 28-26 at the break.
Andre began the second half with one of his six treys, but five straight points from Ben Staum put EP-J back ahead permanently. Steele's basket cut the deficit to 33-31, but Vermillion would go scoreless the rest of the third quarter during which they would eventually be outscored 15-5.
Baskets by Freidel and Krier got the Tanagers back to within eight to start the final stanza, but they would never be that close again until the final minute when a pair of Rasmussen free throws and Andre's last three-pointer got them to within 53-45.
Andre finished with 20 points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal while Freidel had eight points, eight boards, two steals and four assists. Rasmussen had nine points and Steele and Krier four apiece.
Brock Zeller with 14, Staum with 12 and Ethan Pace with 11 gave EP-J a three-pronged balanced offensive attack. The taller Huskies led in rebounding 24-14 as the Tanagers were able to get only one rebound off their own board.
Vermillion actually had one more field goal than did EP-J, the Tanagers hitting on 17 of 41 tries for 42 percent and the Huskies connecting on 16 of 33 for 48 percent. But while the foul differential wasn't all that drastic – 17 fouls on Vermillion and 12 on EP-J – the number of free throws those fouls produced was dramatic. The Huskies went to the stripe 28 times, making 18, while the Tanagers had only nine free throws, sinking five.