The Tanager girls and Coach Nick Mayer and his staff hoped all last week that the momentum from a stunning win over third-ranked Wagner would carry over into Tuesday's District 8A opener against rival Elk Point-Jefferson and the Tanagers could duplicate a 43-40 victory over the Huskies last month.
Vermillion trailed by no more than three points at any time in the game � and that happened only twice � and the Tanagers were lights-out at the free-throw stripe as they eliminated EP-J, 62-51, in the semifinal round at Beresford. The win earned Vermillion a tough challenge � facing the top-seeded Watchdogs on their home court in the championship game last night (Thursday).
Sinking a rather astonishing 21 out of 26 free throws, including 14 of 17 in the fourth quarter, the Tanagers pulled away from EP-J at the end. Never mind that they took only two field-goal shots in the last five minutes and missed them both! The Huskies kept fouling, and the Tanagers kept making them pay.
Another key was holding down their turnover total, which in some games has soared into double digits. The Tanagers committed only six, and EP-J had only eight miscues in the well-played, intense, entertaining postseason clash.
Kelly Amundson led VHS in scoring with 16 points, including a perfect 6-of-6 in free throws. Claire Jones contributed 15 points. Val Robinson had 12 points and was a stunning 8-of-8 at the free-throw line. Lexi Regnerus had seven points and Beth Szymonki and Morgan Erickson six apiece.
The Tanagers shot 49 percent from the field and kept pace with the Huskies on the boards, being outrebounded by only 25-23.
Straight out of the gate, Vermillion had come to play. Erickson got the ball rolling with three early field goals, and Szymonki chimed in with a pair of her own. The only Tanager deficit in the first half was at 3-2 in the early going.
As the game neared halftime the Tanagers fought off each EP-J thrust. Two free throws by Robinson, a bucket by Amundson, and a Jones bank shot off the glass following an Amundson steal solidified a 30-25 halftime lead for Mayer's crew.
The two rivals stayed within three points of each other through the third quarter, and it seemed as if the game was certain to go down to the wire, even possibly to a final shot. With EP-J leading 39-36, Amundson cut the gap to one, and Szymonski rebounded a teammate's miss, drove back in and scored for a 40-39 lead. EP-J answered and led 41-40 after three periods.
Again the Huskies got up by three at 45-42 when the magic began. Robinson extended her free-throw streak in the game to six in a row to get the Tanagers back to within 45-44. After a Husky miss at one end, Jones' heroics turned the tide permanently. She canned a three-pointer while the Huskies put three defenders on Amundson. After an Erickson steal, Jones answered the bell again with another trey. Suddenly it was 50-45 for VHS with 5:00 remaining.
The Tanagers would not score from the field again, but from the free-throw line it became a parade. Make that a flood!
Jones made one of two free throws for a 51-45 lead with 4:31 to go. To the Huskies' credit they converted a Tanager turnover and added a pair of free throws to crawl back to within 51-48, but that would be the end of that.
Regnerus, two free throws at 3:33. Amundson, two free throws at 2:14. EP-J had committed its 10th team foul, so every opportunity would now be a guaranteed two shots for the Tanagers.
Jones picked up a loose ball and was fouled. Two free throws for her at 1:53 for a 57-48 lead. Robinson, two free throws at 1:19.
As a Tanager guard got into trouble and was about to lose the ball on a five-second count, Mayer called a possession-saving timeout. From that moment on, VHS killed the clock.
Jones made one of two with 31 seconds left, and after a miss of their own, the Huskies decided it was pointless to keep fouling. Amundson added two more free throws near the end as the Tanager total reached 62 points.
The win improved the VHS record to 9-12 heading into the championship game. But as the Tanagers and Huskies left the court, their meetings for this year ended, they no doubt realized that over the next couple of seasons, these two neighboring schools will have some dandy battles on the basketball court yet again. Both rosters are filled with underclassmen.