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Cougars win fourth VHT title this decade

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South Central tops Stew-Stras in title game

By Seth Whitehead

 The script would have been too cheesy to believe - had the South Central boys basketball team not written it in Vandalia.

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The Cougars entered the 37th Annual Vandalia Holiday Tournament on Dec. 26 with a pedestrian 4-4 record and few believing they could even come close to competing for another tournament title.

But the Cougars proved once again that anything is possible once they set foot on the court at VCHS, leaving Vandalia last Tuesday night with their fourth championship trophy this decade after a 61-53 victory over Stewardson-Strasburg in the title game.

"I'm real pleased with the turnaround," said Cougars coach Gary Shirley to the Effingham Daily News. "These kids have to feel real good about themselves. As for me, I'm a whole lot more satisfied than I was eight or nine days ago."

The blueprint for success was a familiar one for South Central during its unlikely 5-0 tournament run: the Cougars successfully dictated a deliberate tempo, got just enough production from a rapidly improving cast of varsity newcomers, and their dynamic duo - Isaac Grapperhaus and Tanner Bushue - had huge games once again.

Grapperhaus capped one of the more consistent and dominant performances in tournament history, scoring 20 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.

The 6-foot-5 senior went for at least 20 and 10 in all five of the Cougars' tourney games, averaging 22.4 ppg and 12.4 rebounds per game in a tournament-MVP performance.

Grapperhaus's 62 rebounds place him sixth on the tournament's all-time list.

Bushue was nearly as dominant throughout the tournament, averaging 19.4 points and 6.8 rebounds, and he saved his best for the championship.

The 6-foot-4 senior pumped in a season-high 26 points on 8 for 13 shooting from the field.

Tyler Gillett added 10 points to cap off a breakthrough tournament in which he averaged 9 ppg and 5 rpg.

The trio of Gillett, Grapperhaus and Bushue combined to average 50.8 points between them, providing more than enough offense for the stingy Cougars, who gave up just 44.8 points per game and won by an average margin of 13 points.

South Central's vastly improved offensive patience helped it shoot a blistering 55 percent from the floor in the tournament, including 61 percent against Stew-Stras.

"We did some nice things offensively, and we did enough defensively to keep (Stew-Stras) from running up and down the floor the way they want to do," Shirley said. "You put pressure on their offense by being patient on offense on your end. That's just the way we have to play."

The Cougars took a lead they would not relinquish midway through the first quarter and led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter.

The victory moves South Central's record in VHT play this decade to 35-10.

Third-Place Game

Altamont 72, Greenville 54

Altamont wasted little time bouncing back from its first loss of the year, racing out to a 17-7 lead after one quarter before cruising to a convincing win over the top-seeded Comets.

Devin Frailey led the Indians (11-1) with 22 points and seven rebounds, while Brian Suckow and Kieffer McCarron finished in double figures with 18 and 14 points, respectively.

Suckow also had a team-best nine rebounds, and McCarron's performance helped land him a spot on the all-tournament team, along with backcourt mate Landon Duckwitz.

Kyle Dannaman capped an all-tournament performance with another big game, scoring a team-best 20 points, but the Comets' offensive struggles continued.

Greenville (8-3) shot just 40 percent from the floor, as Altamont led wire-to-wire.

Fifth-Place Game

Pana 62, Flora 49

Frank Schmitz capped an all-tournament performance with 25 points and 12 rebounds, as the Panthers closed out VHT play with their third-straight win.

Derek Beyers added 10 points and six rebounds for the Panthers, who took charge with a  21-7 advantage in the second quarter. The Panthers' cause was also aided by a big advantage at the free-throw line, as Pana sank 22 of 30 charity attempts, compared to just 4 of 10 for Flora.

Schmitz, a 6-foot-5 senior, wound up averaging 21 points and 9.2 rebounds per game for the tournament.

Paul Knapp led Flora with 19 points and five rebounds. The freshman guard averaged just under 20 ppg in the Wolves' five games, earning an all-tourney nod.

Ninth-Place Game

Shelbyville 53, Central A&M 42

The Rams salvaged a victory in their tournament finale, as Nick Nugent's 15 points and Dustyn Fatheree's 10 points and six boards helped stave off the Raiders.

Bryce Hogan had a game-high 16 points for Central A&M.