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The basketball gods seemed to be smiling on the Vandalia girls basketball team Monday night.
Just 48 hours after draining victory in the championship of the Sandoval Invitational, the unthinkable seemed possible - an easy road victory at Hillsboro.
It would have been just what the doctor ordered for the visibly weary Lady Vandals, who enjoyed a 31-16 lead early in the third quarter. But it turns out it was too good to be true.
The Lady Hiltoppers used a 3-point barrage to storm back from a 15-point third-quarter deficit, taking a 39-38 with 2:18 to go.
Fortunately, the Lady Vandals righted the ship down the stretch, as Laura Hobbie answered with a three-point play to put the Lady Vandals back in front.
Vandalia wound up scoring the final seven points of the game in a 45-39 victory that was a little too close for comfort, but a win, nonetheless.
"I don't care whether you're in high school or college, it's tough to win on the road when you're playing a decent team," said VCHS coach Mike Butler, whose squad extended its winning streak to nine games and improved to 18-3. "Hillsboro's got some good shooters, and we gave them some opportunities to makes some 3s, and they took advantage of it."
Hillsboro hit 5 of 7 trifectas during its comeback, a stunning development considering it couldn't seem to hit from anywhere in the first half. The Lady Vandals' defense had a lot to do with that, however, as 6-for-18 Hillsboro shooting and 13 turnovers helped Vandalia take a 23-12 lead into the locker room.
Cassie Warner outscored the Hiltoppers all by herself in the opening 16 minutes, pumping in 13 points.
But the Hiltoppers' struggles masked somewhat sluggish play by the Lady Vandals on the offensive end. Despite enjoying a 15-point lead midway through the third quarter, Vandalia had committed 13 turnovers.
Those turnover troubles suddenly became a factor when Paige Cullison nailed a 3-pointer to kick off a 14-1 Hillsboro run, cutting Vandalia's lead to just two, 32-30, with 7:16 to go in the fourth.
The Vandals countered by going into the post - and it turned out to be a wise decision, as Laura Hobbie temporarily staved off the Lady Toppers with three straight baskets inside. The latter bucket came off a beautiful feed by Amanda Walton, giving Vandalia a 38-32 lead with just under four minutes to go.
But Morgan White countered with Hillsboro's fifth 3-pointer of the half, and back-to-back baskets by Megan Moore completed the host team's comeback moments later.
The Lady Vandals looked to be completely unraveling after Moore's go-ahead bucket, as they immediately committed their 22nd turnover of the game. But Hillsboro countered with its 24th turnover, and Hobbie responded with a nifty baseline drive that resulted in a hoop and harm.
Hobbie converted her free-throw attempt to put Vandalia up by two, 41-39. She wound up scoring 10 of her 14 points in the final quarter, all of which came in the paint.
"We told them that our success this year isn't going to come from shooting 17-foot jump shots," Butler said. "We've got to pound the ball inside and be strong down there. That's the kind of play we need from her and other people down there. That was good to see."
Despite watching a 15-point lead dissipate in a flash, the Lady Vandals did everything they needed to do to win in the final 1:30.
First, Shelby Cearlock forced a jump ball that went in Vandalia's favor. Amanda Walton then went the length of the court to chase down a lose ball that could have resulted in a go-ahead basket for the Lady Hiltoppers.
Shelby Cearlock then sealed the win by hitting a pair of free throws with 31 seconds to go following a Hillsboro miss.
"We kind of self-destructed on offense for one little stretch, but we did a good job at the end taking care of the ball and making free throws," Butler said. "Like I told them, a win is a win is a win.
"It is tough to come back, and that was a pretty draining game on Saturday, so we're happy with what we did tonight. I thought our kids responded down the stretch and did what they needed to do to win."
The Lady Vandals will enjoy a near weeklong break before hosting Litchfield in a key SCC-East battle on Monday.
The JV Lady Vandals came up a little short in their game with the Hiltoppers, falling 37-31.
Kris Stunkel led the way with eight points, while Rachel Hickerson had five and Brittney Bennett, Kayla Houston and Tori Hagy had four points apiece.
Vandalia 11 12 8 14 - 45
Hillsboro 6 12 15 12 - 39
Vandalia scoring - Warner 5-10 2-2 13, Hobbie 6-9 2-4 14, Banal 2-6 0-0 4, Cearlock 2-4 4-4 10, Durbin 0-1 0-0 0, Walton 2-6 0-0 4. Totals 17-37 8-10 45.
Hillsboro scoring - Blackwell 1 0-0 3, Homa 1 0-0 2, Thacker 5 0-1 10, White 3 0-0 9, Moore 5 0-0 10, Pinkley 1 0-0 2. Totals 17-38 0-1 39.
3-point goals - Vandalia 3 (Cearlock 2, Warner), Hillsboro 5 (Blackwell, Cullison, White 3). Rebounds - Vandalia 17 (Banal 5), Hillsboro 17. Turnovers - Vandalia 22, Hillsboro 24. Records - Vandalia is 18-3, 5-1 SCC-E; Hillsboro is 7-11.