Carrying the confidence of a winning streak and a strong game plan, the third-seeded Vandalia seventh-grade boys basketball team didn’t even care that Greenville brought a 21-2 record into last Thursday’s regional championship game.
Or, for that matter, that the top-seeded Blue Jays had three times defeated the Jr. Vandals during the regular season.
Nathan Casey scored 12 points, including two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and the Jr. Vandals played a strong game defensively to beat Greenville 30-27 and take the Class 3A Hillsboro Regional championship.
“We were playing our best ball toward the end of the season, so we were thinking, ‘Why can’t we win it?’” said coach Mark Rinehart. “It was a solid team effort.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said, “but the kids wanted it and believed in themselves.”
Vandalia (16-8) advanced to Wednesday’s sectional game against Southwestern (20-3) at Auburn Junior High. The winner advances to the state tournament at Wenona Fieldcrest Junior High on Monday at 1 p.m.
During the first matchup of the season, Greenville had employed an aggressive press defense that caused the Jr. Vandals to commit numerous turnovers, but in the last matchup, the press was gone, and an aggressive man-to-man defense was used.
To prepare, Rinehart had his team practice a lot of press breaks, and also had his squad scrimmage against the eighth-graders, who were instructed to play very physically on defense.
Add in a defensive adjustment for Vandalia, and that equaled the recipe for success.
“I told my guys, ‘I don’t care what they do, we are pressing them on every made basket the whole game,’” Rinehart said. “That’s what we have been doing, and it seems to be working.
“Our defense was really good,” he said. “They scored over 40 the first two times, close to 40 the third time and this time only 27.”
Ethan Bayles added six points for Vandalia, and was a key player for the Jr. Vandals inside the paint, defending bigger players and boxing out on rebounds.
James Taylor played a similar role, scoring four while also grabbing a handful of boards, including an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw in the final 10 seconds that sealed the victory.
“Their coach told me that one of the main reasons why we won was because they could not stop him from rebounding,” Rinehart said.
Garrett McNary and Marcus Zimmerman each added three points, and Nic Wollerman contributed two points off of the bench.
Greenville led 8-7 after the first quarter – a welcome change from the previous matchups, which saw the Blue Jays take a big lead early in the game – but the Jr. Vandals used a 7-3 run in the second period to take a 14-11 lead to halftime.
The Blue Jays got a point back in the third quarter, and eventually took a 22-20 lead in the final period.
“In the fourth quarter, they made a little run to take the lead, because we turned it over a couple of times,” Rinehart said. “We came out of a timeout on a set play (Casey 3-pointer) and scored, then we made some things happen on defense.”
Vandalia had to win three games to take the regional crown, beating Wood River in the first round before upsetting No. 2 Staunton, 32-14, in the semifinals to set up the title game with Greenville.
“When I saw the regional, personally, I felt like we could beat Greenville,” Rinehart said. “There was no question in my mind.
“They are very good, but we had lost three times by less than 10 points, so I knew we would have a chance.”
Thursday, Jan. 24
Points: Casey, 12; Bayles, 6; Taylor, 4; McNary, 3; Zimmerman, 3; Wollerman, 2.