Tanager boys overcome deficit to beat West Central

Vermillions Anthony Leber shovels the ball to a Tanager teammate after confronting two Sioux Falls Christian defenders during basketball action in the VHS gymnasium Jan. 20. (Photo by David Lias)

Vermillion refused to fold after a tough stretch from the middle of the third quarter into the fourth period at Hartford Tuesday night. The Tanagers capitalized at the free-throw lane and overcame a four-point deficit with four minutes left to beat West Central, 53-48.

The victory, the second this year over the Trojans, lifted the Tanagers to a 5-6 record and broke a losing streak that included a pair of tough losses last week.

"We had to get ourselves back on track," said Coach Jay Drake after the game, "and this was an important one. More than anything we had to get back to playing 32 minutes of basketball, and we did that to get a good win on the road."

Down 7-0 at the get-go, the Tanagers got their ship righted in a hurry and took their first lead at the first-period buzzer, 16-14, when Austin Krier scored his fifth basket of the opening quarter.

An even second period saw both clubs hit a pair of treys, the Tanagers coming from 23-20 down to 26-23 ahead at the break on late threes by Krier and Tanner Anderson.

A Tyler Husby trey to open the second half gave Vermillion its biggest lead up to that point at 29-23, but the Trojans fought back as VHS, almost turnover-free in the first half, started to make some errors in West Central's favor. Two treys by WC's Jeremy Johnson ended the quarter with the home team up by 36-34.

Down by six at 43-37, the Tanagers started the road to victory on Husby's third trey of the game. Anderson's three-pointer with 3:21 left brought Vermillion to within 45-44, and then VHS took the lead to stay on two Krier free throws with 2:44 to go. By this time West Central had already committed beyond its 10th foul, giving the Tanagers two free throws on every foul, and that was a huge factor.

"We did a better job tonight of moving the ball on offense, and they had to bump us a bit. That got them into foul trouble," Drake said. In fact, the Tanagers shot 26 free throws in the second half, making only 15, but West Central got to the stripe only four times.

J.T. Sorensen didn't score, but he had two immensely big defensive plays late in the game. A steal with just over two minutes left was the first. The Tanagers got possession with 2:00 left and nursed the clock down to 1:12 when Anderson was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Sorensen then grabbed a welcome defensive rebound and was fouled with 45 seconds left. He missed both free throws, but Anderson immediately stole the ball and was fouled. He sank one of two. A last-gasp trey by West Central's Dalton Kuehl cut the Tanager lead to 49-48, but Husby sank two free throws at 0:24.

When West Central missed the front end of a one-and-one at 0:15, Nile Morecraft snared the rebound. Anderson was fouled on the play and sank one free throw, putting the Tanagers safely up by four. A late Tanner Settles free throw settled the final margin at five.

Three men in double-figure scoring was a welcome sight for Vermillion. Krier had 18 16 of them in the first half and his two crucial late free throws. Anderson scored 15, Husby 13, Settles three, Morecraft three and Sorensen one.

For West Central, which sank eight three-point baskets, Kuehl led scoring with 17 points. Jeremy Johnson had four treys for 12 points. Mitchell Brockhaus, their 6'8" sophomore center, blocked six shots and had 10 points.

A rescheduled game with Bon Homme was postponed again this past Monday night and will be made up Feb. 21. After playing at Dell Rapids last night, the Tanagers return to action at Beresford Tuesday in a girls-boys doubleheader and will also be away at Madison next Friday, Feb. 4.

S.F. Christian 61, VHS 32

For a team that was hanging with Sioux Falls Christian for more than a quarter and a half, it seemed almost impossible that the Tanagers found themselves trailing by as many as 34 points late in the game, but the visiting Chargers, improving to a record of 6-3, used countless Vermillion turnovers, fast breaks and blocked shots to leave the Tanagers in their wake, 61-32, Thursday.

When Tyler Husby canned a three-pointer with 1:32 left in the first half, VHS took a 17-16 lead. But amazingly they would go two solid quarters without scoring another field goal until Austin Krier scored a soft jumper with 1:32 left in the game.

From that 17-16 deficit, Christian finished the half with seven straight points, outscored Vermillion 14-0 in the third period and scored the first three points of the final quarter, finishing off a 24-0 run. Vermillion's first six points after that long drought were on free throws, and the dry spell without a field goal lasted exactly 16 minutes of court time.

The score had been tied at 5, 7 and 9 in the early going after the game had remained scoreless for the first four minutes. Three three-pointers and another basket by Husby gave him 11 of the team's first 17 points before the long scoreless period began.

Coach Jay Drake refused to use the "young and inexperienced" excuse after the game. He said the team had taken a few steps backward in the two losses last week after feeling good about themselves with three straight wins against lesser-skilled opponents earlier in the month. He suggested the team can no longer be satisfied with playing a tough team tough for only part of a game.

"We have to keep fighting whether we're down big or not, and we didn't this time," Drake said.

Husby and Krier were high scorers for VHS with 11 each. Tanner Settles had four, Anthony Leber two, J.T. Sorensen two and Tanner Anderson two.

Though a big team with a pair of 6'7" centers, Christian, ranked ninth in the state "A" poll last week, was led in scoring by a 5'10" sophomore guard, Carson Long, with 21. Brady Van Holland, another guard, had 17 as he and his teammates capitalized on their fast-break opportunities. One of the big men, Bryant Engbers, had 13 points, 11 of them in the second quarter alone.

Christian had a 23-21 rebounding edge. Vermillion's leaders off the boards were Krier with five and Sorensen and Husby with four each.

The most glaring statistic was the 29 turnovers the Tanagers committed. "We didn't take care of the ball in the third quarter," Drake said. "We quit being aggressive and played too tentatively."

Christian shot 47 percent, not hard to do when so many of their 53 attempts were high-percentage layups or short-range put-backs. The Tanagers made 10 of 37 shots for a 27 percent average. as their record dropped to 4-6 overall.

EP-J 63, VHS 38

Defending regional champion Elk Point-Jefferson may be even better this year than when they went to the state "A" tournament a year ago. One night after beating Lennox, the Huskies allowed Vermillion to hang with them for a quarter and a half, but after that it was domination in a 63-38 Husky win in Elk Point.

Probably the biggest and huskiest (no pun intended!) five men the Tanagers will face all season, Coach Cole Knippling's EP-J club played everybody on their roster and won going away.

After a quick 6-0 start, EP-J saw the Tanagers rally to within 14-9 after one quarter on a trey by Tanner Anderson, a bucket by Anthony Leber and two Austin Krier scores. Five more points by Krier to start the second period and a Nile Morecraft jumper brought the Tanagers to within 18-16 midway through the quarter, but seven quick Husky points gave them a comfort level again, and it was 28-19 at halftime.

The contest quickly got out of control as EP-J had two 8-0 runs, one to start the second half and the other midway through the third quarter. The Husky fast-break offense was humming, and the result was a 44-25 margin after three. Nine of the first 10 EP-J shots were successful in the fourth quarter as the lead mounted to 63-29 before the Tanagers' 9-0 run to end the game two Leber free throws, three Caleb Miller points, a rebound basket by Nick Jensen, and a Jayce Huska field goal cut the final gap from 34 to 25 points.

Ethan Pace and Mike Wurtz had 13 points each for EP-J. Wurtz went five-of-five from the field, including hitting all three of his three-point tries. The Huskies shot 61.4 percent from the field for the game.

Krier led the VHS offense with 11 points, and Anderson had nine. Seven other men scored, but the highest of those was Leber with four. Miller and Morecraft had three each, and J.T. Sorensen, Tyler Husby, Huska and Jensen had two points apiece.

J.T. Sorensen led Tanager rebounders with four, and Anderson had three, but VHS was outrebounded by only 23-17, not a big disadvantage considering the size differential between the two clubs. Krier and Anderson had two assists apiece.

The Tanagers played without starter Tanner Settles, nursing a leg bruise after getting tangled up out of bounds in the Lennox game and having 6'9", 290-pound Chris Kruse fall on him.

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