The Vandalia girls basketball team took three steps toward attaining two major goals over the past seven days, moving its record to 17-1 in the process.
The sixth-ranked Class 2A team in the state finds itself in the driver's seat in the race to win the program's first-ever South Central Conference East Division title after moving to 5-0 in league play with wins over Staunton and Greenville last week.
The Lady Vandals also took a step toward their eighth Sandoval Tournament title this decade with an easy 60-22 victory over Brownstown on Monday.
But a date with the team that has kept Vandalia from completely dominating the tournament in recent years awaits, as the VCHS will renew its Sandoval Tournament rivalry with Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
The winner will face either Woodlawn or Webber Township in Saturday's 8 p.m. championship.
"It's been a pretty good rivalry down here between Vandalia and Cowden," Lady Vandals coach Mike Butler said. "I've seen them play earlier. They've got a young team and a solid bunch of players here. It'll be a challenge for us."
The Lady Hornets (8-6) advanced to the semifinals Monday night with a 61-50 win over South Central.
Vandalia 60, Brownstown 22
Shelby Cearlock returned to the court with a vengeance, scoring 20 points to lead the Lady Vandals past the overwhelmed Bombers.
Cearlock missed most of Thursday's game against Staunton after taking a shot to the face after a nasty collision with a Lady Bulldogs player, and she sat out Saturday's game at Greenville to recoup from the injury.
The effects of the blow were still evident Monday, as Cearlock was sporting a black eye that made her barely recognizable - but her play was outstandingly familiar.
The senior shooting guard hit 8 of 11 from the field and 3 of 4 from the foul line, in addition to coming away with three steals.
Cassie Warner added 12 points and four steals, while Amanda Walton had 11 points.
VCHS was in control from the opening tip, as it raced out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead and never looked back.
The scoring output was the Lady Vandals' highest since the team put 74 on the board in a Dec. 15 win over Litchfield. Vandalia wound up shooting 50 percent from the floor (22 of 44).
"This was a good ballgame to get some people out there and work on a few things," Butler said. "It was a good game for us tonight."
Emily Strobel had nine points for Brownstown, while Abby Hill had eight, but the Bombers could not overcome 30-plus turnovers.
Vandalia 39, Greenville 11
With Cearlock - the team's leading scorer - sidelined, the Lady Vandals needed somebody to step up on offense. Walton was up to the task, pumping in a career-high 21 points.
"Amanda had a real good ballgame," Butler said. "That's what this team's done all along when someone else was down or having an off night."
The Lady Comets' slowdown tactics kept VCHS's offense from kicking into full gear, but it didn't matter, thanks to another dominating defensive effort by the Lady Vandals.
Vandalia blew the game wide open with a 13-0 advantage in the second quarter and completed a season sweep against their bitter I-70 rivals.
"We played better in this game than we did against Staunton, I think," Butler said.
The JV Lady Vandals avenged a Dec. 8 loss to the Comets, going on to a 39-29 victory in the preliminary game.
Freshman Haley Wollerman's 15 points led the way, while Maggie Childers added eight.
Amy Walton, Audra Donaldson and Hannah Coney chipped in four apiece.
Last Thursday's Game
Vandalia 37, Staunton 30
The Lady Vandals overcame the loss of Cearlock and a season-high 28 turnovers to fend off the Lady Bulldogs in a game pitting teams that entered the night tied at 3-0 atop the SCC-East standings.
Cearlock left the game early in the second quarter and did not return after a nasty collision with a Staunton player. The Lady Vandals were clearly out of sync without their leading scorer, but enjoyed a comfortable lead throughout the middle of the game, nonetheless.
That changed, however, when Staunton trimmed the host team's lead to just three, 24-21, with a basket at the 5:50 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Lady Vandals turned the ball over on their next possession, but Staunton missed out on a pair of opportunities to trim VCHS's lead to one.
Kayla Houston then snapped a 6 1/2-minute Vandalia scoring drought by hitting a pair of free throws after getting fouled on an offensive rebound.
Walton followed with a fast-break bucket off a Staunton turnover, extending Vandalia's lead to 28-21.
The Lady Bulldogs still found themselves down just five points, 30-25, with just under two minutes remaining, but the Lady Vandals finally managed to deliver a knockout blow with a four-point possession.
After Walton banked in a baseline shot and was fouled with 1 1/2 minutes to go, giving the Lady Vandals a 32-25 lead, she came up short on her free-throw attempt. But a Staunton player saved the ball directly to Laura Hobbie in the lane, resulting in a layup that gave the Lady Vandals a commanding nine-point advantage.
Hobbie finished with a game-high 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals, while Walton had 11 points and six rebounds.
Houston chipped in six points and seven rebounds, while Warner had six points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The Lady Vandals shot just 37 percent from the field (13 of 35), but Staunton was an abysmal 11 of 38 from the floor (29 percent). The Lady Bulldogs also committed 24 turnovers.
At one point early in the fourth quarter, the teams had as many turnovers combined (43) as points.
"It was a struggle," Butler said. "Turnover-wise, we just didn't seem focused and into the ballgame at points of the game. We've got to avoid that, because we've got some big games coming up; the conference championship is going to be decided in the next few weeks.
"You hate those games when you struggle like that, but we came away with a win. That's the sign of a good team."
The Lady Vandals fell in the JV contest, 34-24.
Wollerman led the way with eight points, while Walton had five and Coney had four.