VANDALIA – Pana’s lead was cut down to single digits by the Vandals at one point during the second half of the championship game of the Vandalia Holiday Tournament.
Unfortunately, there was only 43 seconds left in the game at the time.
The Panthers followed by making one shot from the field and all five free throws to win their first VHT since 2002 and sixth overall with a 56-44 win against the Vandals, who last won the event in 1981.
“I’m proud of the kids because they battled,” said first-year coach Brian Buscher. “They’re a good group of kids who like playing together, and I hope we can improve.”
Senior Leyton Godoyo had a season-high 17 points in the rematch of the 2001 and 2002 title games, and added six steals, but the Vandals committed 14 turnovers and went just 3-of-14 from the free-throw line, allowing Pana to control the game from start to finish.
A second-chance layup from tournament MVP Robbie Hester midway through the first period gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead, as the Vandals started the game with some nerves in making their first title-game appearance since 2005.
“We came out really tight, and I wanted to just play through it,” Buscher said. “We needed to get that out of our system, but then it didn’t get much better in the second quarter.”
Pana’s lead grew to 12 by halftime, and the Vandals never got closer than seven, which came with 3:23 left in the half on a Godoyo 3-pointer, the first of his three in the game.
As a team, the Vandals shot less than 25 percent from the field in the first half.
“We weren’t taking bad looks, but we were unbalanced when we shot,” Buscher said.
The second half wouldn’t prove to be much different, as Vandalia fell behind by as many as 18 points during the final 16 minutes before trying to sprint back to victory in the final 4:37.
A layup from Godoyo at that point cut the lead down to 12 at 44-32, and he added layups on back-to-back possessions with about two minutes left in the game to make the score 46-37, but that was as close as it would get.
Seniors Tim Ritchey and Michael Wells were selected to the all-tournament team following the game, and closed out the tournament with respectable games.
Wells had six points and eight rebounds to finish with a tournament average of 12 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and Ritchey had seven points to finish the tournament at 7.2 ppg.
The Vandals cherished their spot in the title game after a 3-1 finish in pool play.
All of those wins were by five points or fewer, so if a couple of plays had gone differently, the Vandals could have found themselves playing for ninth place.
“We ended up 3-1 in pool play,” Buscher said. “The turnaround after the loss to Shelbyville says something about our kids.
“Because we were down after that game.”
Vandalia beat St. Anthony, 70-65, in the first game of the tournament last Wednesday, before tiring and losing to Shelbyville, 55-42, later that night.
Last Thursday, the Vandals beat Altamont, 37-34, and then upset Maroa-Forsyth last Friday, 62-57, to advance to the title game.
Pana went 4-0 in pool play, including a win against top-seeded Flora, to advance to Saturday’s game.
Saturday, Dec. 29
Points: Godoyo, 17; Ritchey, 7; Wells, 6; Ch. Woolsey, 6; Harter, 5; Co. Woolsey, 3.
Rebounds: Wells, 8; Goodyo, 5; Ch. Woolsey, 5; Co. Woolsey, 5; Ritchey, 4; Harter, 2; Team, 2; Wade Cowger, 1.
Assists: Ritchey, 3; Godoyo, 2; Harter, 2; Ch. Woolsey, 1; Co. Woolsey, 1.
Steals: Godoyo, 6; Ritchey, 1; Ch. Woolsey, 1; Co. Woolsey, 1.
Blocks: Godoyo, 1; Harter, 1; Co. Woolsey, 1.
Points: Hester, 13; Gibson, 10; Metzger, 10; Hudlin, 7; Clark, 4; Kircher, 4; Zahradka, 4; Kirk, 2; Rybolt, 2.
Rebounds: Hester, 10; Metzger, 8; Gibson, 5; Kircher, 3; Zahradka, 3; Clark, 2; Hudlin, 1.