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Lady Vandals improve to 5-0

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By Seth Whitehead

Perfection is said to be nearly impossible to attain. But the Vandalia girls basketball team has achieved it so far in the standings.

And the Lady Vandals were as close to perfect as a team can get on the court Monday during the second quarter of their SCC-East opener at Greenville.

A combination of relentless defense, pinpoint passing and 11-for-14 shooting from the floor overwhelmed the host Comets to the tune of a 23-4 advantage in the second frame, as the Lady Vandals went on to cruise to a 52-23 win and a 5-0 record, thanks to their best stretch of basketball so far this season.

"Defensive-wise, especially," said Vandalia coach Mike Butler, whose team forced 14 turnovers in the first half. "That's the way we want to play defense."

The Lady Vandals full-court press and aggressive 2-3 zone helped the them score 19 points off turnovers in the first 16 minutes.

"Our hands were active and we got a lot of points off turnovers," Butler said. "That sure makes it easier when you do that kind of stuff."

Junior guard Shelby Cearlock set the tone on both ends of the court, scoring 12 of her game-high 18 points in the first half, in addition to setting up a number of transition buckets with five steals.

"She was everywhere - especially on defense," Butler said. "That was good to see. She's kind of the leader on defense out there."

After a fairly competitive opening seven minutes, the Lady Vandals took complete control with an 11-0 run that started with a Laura Hobbie putback with less than a minute to go in the first quarter. The run ended just three minutes later with a Hobbie jumper.

Greenville responded with back-to-back buckets, but the Lady Vandals showed that they were just getting warmed up, as they closed the half on a 14-0 run.

Though Vandalia's defense stood out again, the Lady Vandals showed how good of an offensive team they can be during the run. The team's passing was particularly impressive, as five of the seven baskets were set up by perfect feeds. Vandalia finished the half shooting a blistering 60 percent from the field (23 for 40).

"I think we've had moments in each game where we show that (offensive ability)," Butler said. "When we have good spacing and run our offense, we can get a lot of easy baskets. We just have to be more consistent."

Vandalia suffered a bit of a letdown in the aggressiveness department in the third quarter, but thanks to the shooting of Cassie Warner, Greenville never entertained hopes of getting back in the game. Warner scored seven of her 10 points in the second half.

Hobbie added 14 points and nine rebounds to another balanced scoring attack. Five Lady Vandals have scored in double figures in the early going.

But there is no question that the team's defense has been the biggest reason for the Lady Vandals' 5-0 start. So far, opponents are averaging as many turnovers (25.5 per game) as points (25.6) against Vandalia.

But things are about to get a little tougher, as Vandalia will host Hillsboro Thursday and Neoga on Saturday. The Lady Vandals will then travel to Litchfield Monday.

"We just want to keep working and get better. We've got a pretty tough stretch of our schedule coming up," Butler said.

The Lady Vandals will see a number of unfamiliar faces against the Hiltoppers, who graduated all five starters from a team that won a state title two years ago. Still, Butler expects his team to be psyched, and the opposing team to present a challenge.

"We played them well last year at our place," Butler said. "I think we ended up losing by about eight. They've got a young team, but they're not a bad team by any means. They're not what they've had the last couple years, but they're a good team, and we'll have to be ready to play."

The Lady Vandals JV team also moved to 5-0, as it won a defensive struggle over the Comets. Kristin Stunkel led Vandalia with eight points.

JV Box Score

Vandalia 32, Greenville 24

Vandalia 5 10 10 7 - 32

Greenville 2 6 9 7 - 24

Vandalia scoring - Stunkel 4 0-0 8, Bennett 2 0-0 4, Durbin 0 2-2 2, Donaldson 0 0-1 0, Hagy 2 1-4 5, Hickerson 3 1-6 7, Shreve 1 0-0 2, Houston 2 0-0 4. Totals 12 4-13 32.

Record - Vandalia is 5-0.

Saturday's Game

Vandalia 42,

Piasa-Southwestern 29

The Lady Vandals broke on through against the other side, topping perennial SCC-West power Piasa by rallying from an early deficit and playing lockdown defense once again.

The Birds - who have won seven straight regional titles and averaged 26 wins per season this decade - built a 13-5 lead after one quarter of play.

But Warner led a furious Lady Vandals comeback, pumping in 11 of her game-high 19 points in the second quarter. Her jumper with a little less than a minute to go in the half gave Vandalia a 16-15 lead it would not relinquish.

"That was a big win for us," Butler said. "They've pretty much dominated that western side of the conference the last few years.

"The first three games, we were never really tested. We were against them, and we got down early and came back. Nothing was easy Saturday. That was good for these kids that they know they can play in those conditions."

The JV Lady Vandals were also victorious, as they prevailed in overtime, thanks to baskets by Hickerson and Brittaney Bennett.

Kayla Houston led the Lady Vandals with 12 points, while Bennett had seven.

Varsity Box Score

Piasa SW 13 2 8 6 - 29

Vandalia 5 13 10 14 - 42

Vandalia scoring - Walton 3 0-1 6, Cearlock 3 3-4 9, Warner 8 2-2 19, Hobbie 3 0-3 6, Banal 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 5-10 42.

JV Box Score

Piasa-SW 11 3 4 7 0 - 25

Vandalia 7 13 0 5 4 - 29

Vandalia scoring - Stunkel 1 0-0 2, Houston 6 0-0 12, Dodson 1 2-4 3, Bennett 3 1-1 7, Donaldson 0 1-2 1, Hagy 0 1-2 1, Hickerson 1 0-2 2. Totals 12 5-11 29.

Thursday's Game

Vandalia 58, Gillespie 21

Hobbie, Cearlock and Walton all scored in double figures, as the Lady Vandals rolled in their home opener.

Hobbie scored 14 points, while Cearlock added 14 and Walton chipped in 10, and the Lady Vandals' defense held Gillespie to single digits in each quarter.

The JV Lady Vandals raced out to an 11-0 first-quarter lead and cruised to victory. Houston led a balanced scoring attack with eight points.

Varsity Box Score

Gillespie 5 8 3 5 - 21

Vandalia 14 14 16 14 - 58

Vandalia scoring - Banal 2 1-2 5, Durbin 2 1-2 5, Warner 1 0-0 2, Shields 1 0-0 2, Hobbie 8 0-1 16, Cearlock 7 0-0 14, Walton 4 2-4 10, Houston 2 0-0 4. Totals 25 4-9 58.

JV Box Score

Gillespie 0 4 11 4 - 19

Vandalia 11 8 5 7 - 31

Vandalia scoring - Stunkel 2 0-0 4, Houston 4 0-0 8, Dodson 0 1-2 1, Bennett 1 0-0 2, Durbin 2 0-0 4, Hagy 2 1-2 5, Hagy 2 1-2 5, Shreve 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 3-6 31.