Clutch free-throw shooting during a tense back-and-forth fourth quarter – and even more so in overtime – propelled Vermilion's girls to a 13-2 record Friday night when they scored a victory in a place other people don't win very often.
The Tanagers defeated Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 70-63, sending Iowa's 13th-ranked Class 3A team to its sixth loss in 19 games.
"I'm incredibly proud of our kids," said Coach Nick Mayer after the win. "This was a great win for our program."
The Tanagers took a 5-1 Big 8 Conference record into their home game against West Central last night (Thursday) and finish the conference and home schedule tonight (Friday) against Harrisburg. The regular season ends in a difficult spot – on the home court of the state's top-rated Wagner – Tuesday.
At Sergeant Bluff the Tanagers rolled to a 21-9 first-quarter edge, going on runs of 5-0, 7-0 and 9-0 during that period. They were carried on the backs of Beth Szymonski and Kelly Amundson, who accounted for 17 of those 21 first-period points.
But the Warriors rebounded with a 13-3 run in the second period, and by halftime it was a 30-22 Tanager advantage but still a ballgame.
SB-L crawled closer after three, 39-35, and finally caught up at 43-43 with 5:41 remaining. The Warriors went ahead by 49-46, but a field goal and free throw by Val Robinson knotted the contest at 49-49 with 3:24 to go.
After that Amundson made both ends of a one-and-one situation at the stripe, Robinson made the first of a one-and-one, and Szymonski, with the double bonus now in effect, sank a pair with 54 seconds to go, making it 54-51. A trey by SB-L's Cassidy Dreon tied the game with 28.5 seconds to play. A Vermillion turnover gave SB-L a chance to win it in regulation time, but a shot was missed, and so was a put-back attempt, forcing O.T.
Having escaped defeat right there, the Tanagers rolled into the extra period with new life. Fifty-five seconds in, Lexi Regnerus drained a three-pointer, and after a Szymonski defensive rebound, Amundson, with people all over her, drove successfully for a layup.
"After we got our 5-0 lead in O.T., we were able to dictate how the overtime was going to go," Mayer said, "and they had to foul."
And foul they did, almost every moment Vermillion got the ball. Two free throws from Robinson made it 61-54. A field goal by SB-L's Emily Wisecup was offset partially by Amundson's one of two from the line.
The rest of the way it was Amundson's ballgame. She made 10 free-throw opportunities in the final 52 seconds and sank seven of them. Robinson added two more as the Tanagers pulled away.
In all, VHS made 26 of 34 free throws in the game, going 11 of 14 in the overtime.
Amundson had 27 points, Szymonski 19, Robinson 12, Regnerus nine, Blair Gilkyson two and Mackenzie Huber one. For the Warriors Betsy Thomas, Dreon and Wisecup were in double figures with 17, 16 and 14, respectively.