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The Jr. Vandals have improved in most aspects this season.
The eighth-graders already have more wins this season than they did a season ago as seventh-graders, and on Thursday will look to win their second straight regional championship.
Vandalia defeated Staunton, 39-29, in Monday's regional semifinal at Greenville Junior High, and for the second year in a row will battle the Jr. Blue Jays for the championship.
As seventh-graders, the Jr. Vandals went 3-0 at the regional, beating Greenville, 30-27, in the championship game, before falling to Southwestern, 44-37, in the sectional.
There could be a rematch of that game this year if Vandalia (17-3) beats Greenville, and Southwestern completes its run as the No. 1 seed at the Auburn Regional.
Getting past Greenville, however, is no guarantee.
The Jr. Blue Jays topped the Jr. Vandals, 43-33, on Jan. 10 at GJH. but Vandalia had the upper hand in a 46-41 home win on Dec. 10.
The title game is slated for 6 p.m. on Thursday, with the winner playing at the Vandalia Sectional next Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Vandalia came into the regional with some momentum after claiming the title of last week's Vandalia Tournament.
Marcus Zimmerman was named the Most Valuable Player, and the Jr. Vandals took an easy 47-29 win against Pana in last Thursday’s championship game of the 26th annual Vandalia eighth-grade tournament.
Zimmerman paced the Vandals with 19 points in the title game, scoring 10 in the second quarter to help Vandalia (16-3) pull away to a 23-10 halftime lead.
All-tournament selection Nathan Casey added 11 points, and Scott Shulman added five points on a pair of field goals late in the fourth quarter.
Pana started a comeback to open the second half, using a 6-0 run to cut Vandalia’s lead to seven.
The Jr. Vandals promptly followed with a 7-0 run of their own to put the game away, and they then outscored Pana, 15-9, in the fourth quarter.
James Taylor added five points for Vandalia, and Garrett McNary (four), Nic Wollerman (two) and Ethan Bayles (one) also scored.
In pool play last Wednesday, the Jr. Vandals earned their place in the championship game with a 45-36 overtime win against Central A&M.
Vandalia rallied to knot the game at 32 at the end of regulation, and had a 13-point outburst in the extra period.
The Jr. Vandals trailed by eight after the first period, but slowly cut into that lead, getting within five at halftime and within two going to the fourth quarter.
Zimmerman led the team with 19 points, and Casey followed with eight.
In the opening game, Vandalia had little trouble in knocking off Ramsey, 55-28.
Casey hit nine of his game-high 15 points in the first period as the Jr. Vandals took a double-digit lead, and Zimmerman scored nine of his 11 points in the second quarter to help put Vandalia ahead by 20 at halftime.
Bayles was a consistent scorer, putting in 12 points over the first three quarters, and James Taylor chipped in five.
Thursday, Jan. 30
Points: Zimmerman, 19; Casey, 11; Shulman, 5; Taylor, 5; McNary, 4; Wollerman, 2; Bayles, 1.
Wednesday, Jan. 29
Central A&M 36
Points: Zimmerman, 19; Casey, 8; McNary, 6; Cameron Gelsinger, 5; Bayles, 4; Taylor, 2; Nathan Schaub, 1.
Wednesday, Jan. 29
Points: Casey, 15; Bayles, 12; Zimmerman, 11; Taylor, 5; McNary, 3; Shulman, 3; Dylan Garrett, 2; Matt Lidy, 2; Schaub, 2.