By Parker Knox
The Vermillion Tanagers tried their best to derail Dakota Valley’s drive toward another state tournament trip, but their mission fell short in the District 8A championship game on the Panthers’ home court Saturday night.
Dakota Valley pulled away from a two-point halftime lead to control the game and won by a 60-47 count, though that was the biggest lead the winners enjoyed all night long. The Tanagers twice battled back to within five points in the fourth quarter, but it was not to be, and the Vermillion season ended with a 13-9 record. Meanwhile, the 17-5 Panthers advanced to a regional title game against Tea Area on Tuesday, trying to return to the state tourney where they were runners-up last year.
Fueled by two three-point baskets by Jayce Huska and five Austin Krier points, Vermillion raced to a 12-6 lead after one period. A bucket by Tanner Settles, a trey by Krier and two free tosses by Tanner Anderson left VHS up by 19-14 three minutes into the second stanza. But a 15-4 Panther explosion put the Tanagers into a 29-23 hole. Huska’s third three-point basket and a late field goal by Krier pulled VHS to within 30-28 at the intermission.
Despite five more Krier points, two Huska free throws and a putback by Settles, the Tanagers faced a 43-37 deficit with eight minutes left in their season.
Anderson’s trey pulled the Tanagers to within five at 45-40, but the Panthers’ twin terrors, Brody and Blake Van Ginkle, took turns scoring, and it was 49-40 with 5:08 left. The Tanagers had one more rally in them as Nick Jensen grabbed offensive rebounds and scored back-to-back putback buckets to make it 49-44. On their next possessions, however, the Panthers grabbed key offensive rebounds off their own misses, gaining new possessions that helped drain the clock. From that point on, the Tanagers had little choice but to foul intentionally to stop the time from wasting away. The Panthers sank five free throws in the final two minutes to offset any gain a final Krier bucket made.
Krier’s final game as a Tanager saw him scored 17 points along with four boards and a pair of steals. Huska, who has another year of VHS ball remaining, had 11 points. Jensen, who will also be back for one more go-round next winter, had six rebounds along with his four points.
The four other seniors made an impact on the game as well. Anderson had seven points, three rebounds and three steals; Settles six points, four boards and two steals; Anthony Leber two points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal, and J.T. Sorenson nine rebounds and three steals though the Panthers did a perfect job on keeping him scoreless. Carter Andre also had one rebound as the Tanagers outboarded the Panthers, 29-24.
The two Van Ginkles led Dakota Valley with 19 points each, and Jason Lupkes had 10 rebounds.
The Tanagers had reached the championship game by virtue of a 48-42 win over Elk Point-Jefferson in the Thursday semifinals. Vermillion was down 10-7 after a quarter and 20-19 at halftime, but the game was tied at 33-33 after three periods.
Neither team’s three-point shooting was auspicious, Vermillion making one of eight and EP-J three of 15. But the Tanagers got off 55 field-goal shots, making 18, while EP-J was restricted to 37 shots from the field, sinking 16 of them. The Tanagers had a 31-23 rebounding edge.
Krier led VHS with 15 points, Settles had 11, Leber eight, Anderson six, Sorensen five and Jensen three. Sorensen and Jensen were rebounding leaders with 10 and eight, respectively. Anderson and Krier each had two assists while Anderson had five steals and Settles three.