If ever a game were beautiful without being pretty, that one was it!
Tanner Settles came out of a mad scramble beneath the Vermillion basket with the ball and fired up a desperation shot over the rim to score the winning points as the Tanagers rallied in the final two minutes from what appeared to be a sure defeat and send West Central home with a 47-46 loss last Thursday night.
West Central had gone on a 10-0 run through the middle of the final period to jump from four down to six ahead. A pair of successful three-point shots amid a string of Tanager turnovers had seemed to turn the tide in the Trojans' favor after Vermillion had led by a single point after each of the first three quarters.
But refusing to quit because of that sudden turn of events, the Tanagers crept back into contention. Tanner Anderson and Austin Krier each made one of two free throws, and as the clock reached the one-minute mark, the ever-improving Nile Morecraft, sophomore center with no varsity experience prior to this year, hit the first of two crucial moves to the basket.
West Central went up by three with one of two free-throw tries with 41 seconds left, but back at the north end of the court it was Morecraft again to cut the deficit to 46-45 with 25 seconds left. A quick Tanager foul proved valuable because the Trojan shooter missed, and Vermillion had a chance.
A Tanager shot failed with 0:13 on the clock, but in the ensuing scramble for the rebound, the ball skittered out of bounds in Vermillion's favor.
The Tanagers had only 6.7 seconds with which to work as they in-bounded the ball beneath their own basket. The plan was to lob it high in Morecraft's direction in the hope that he could tap it up off the board and into the hoop. It didn't work that way as the ball was knocked around. In the scramble on the floor it was Settles who proved to be the man of the hour.
As the seconds dwindled down to a precious few, he put the shot up over the rim and in!
Officials gave West Central a generous :02.6 seconds on the clock after the Settles score. The Trojans took one in-bounds pass, and the shooter was still behind the center line when he fired off a desperation attempt at a game-winner. It missed, and VHS had secured its third victory of the year.
Morecraft had turned a pair of offensive rebounds into baskets in the first period, and Anderson scored a bank shot high off the board to beat the buzzer and give VHS a 10-9 first-quarter lead.
West Central began feeding its 6'8" sophomore, Mitchell Brockhaus, in the second period, and he scored the first nine points of the second period, three field goals from close in and one three-pointer from the top of the circle. But a jumper by Krier and seven straight points from the stripe—two by Morecraft and five by Krier—were followed by another Krier jumper and an Anderson floater as the Tanagers rallied from 18-10 down to a 23-22 halftime lead.
Morecraft had four more points in the third quarter before he left for some bench time due to foul trouble. Krier answerred the bell with a pair of pretty drives up the lane for scores, and it was 34-33 with one quarter left.
A 12-foot jumper by Krier started the final stanza. Anderson drove strongly into tall, tough Trojan traffic in the lane and came out of there with a three-point play for a 39-35 lead. But at that point West Central began its 10-0 run.
While Morecraft sparkled at crunch time, West Central's Brockhaus was held scoreless in the second half. He also spent part of that half on the bench due to foul concerns.
And while the Tanagers made some errors, their turnover total was only 13 compared to West Central's 19, and the fact that they didn't let a brief string of one mistake after another midway through the final period dampen their spirit and scrap was a key to the win.
Nevertheless, Coach Jay Drake remarked afterward that it probably was a good thing the team couldn't practice the next day (because of another game that night) because there certainly would have been a lot of things on which they could work.
"Our guys battled to the end, and sometimes good things happen when you do," Drake said, "but we didn't execute very well for the most part. We just battled through adversity with some of the guys not having good nights."
Three men in double figures was a positive for Vermillion. Krier had 16, Morecraft 15 and Anderson 11. J.T. Sorensen had two points, Settles two (the winning basket!), and Tyler Husby one point.
Brockhaus was West Central's high scorer with 11, but he had them all in one three-minute stretch at the beginning of the second quarter. Guard Zach Ely scored nine, Dalton Kuehl eight, and Jeremy Johnson seven.
Sorensen was a rebounding demon off the defensive boards with seven caroms there and three more at the offensive end. Settles had six rebounds, Anderson four and Morecraft four. Krier dished off three assists, and Anderson had seven steals.
The Tanagers' 14-of-22 performance at the stripe was crucial. West Central made only five free throws in 12 tries.
On the following night 14 men saw game action as the Tanagers took a winless Parkston team by the neck in a 15-3 first quarter and never were threatened in a 50-25 win.
"We needed to defend strong and not let them think they might have a chance," Drake said, and that's what his team did, leading 25-9 at the half. Parkston still had scored only 14 points late in the game until a final 11-point surge in the last two minutes against the second-tier reserves left Drake a bit displeased.
Husby with 13, Anderson with 10, Krier with nine and Morecraft with eight led balanced VHS scoring. Anthony Leber added three points, Nick Jensen two, Sorenson two, Nate Garrett two and Sttles one. Jayce Huska, Thomas Walker, David Day, Caleb Miller and Mitch Ellison also got into the game.
A 34-25 rebounding advantage for the Tanagers was led by Morecraft's 10 and Sorenson's nine. Krier had four steals and Husby three, and Krier also had three assists.
Acknowledging that West Central and Parkston had a combined one win in 11 games through last weekend, the Tanagers began this new week knowing tougher opponents were just ahead. After hosting Bon Homme Tuesday, VHS is home again tonight (Friday) against Lennox. Next Tuesday they go to Elk Point-Jefferson and return home against Sioux Falls Christian Thursday.