The Vandals' execution was perfect. Unfortunately, the foreboding sense of dj vu that followed was all too familiar.
Trailing by three points with six seconds to go in Tuesday's game against Pana at VCHS, Vandals coach Kevin Jackson asked senior Brenden Wasmuth to miss the last of his three free-throw attempts in order to give the Vandals a chance to send the game into overtime with a 3-point shot.
Wasmuth followed the orders to a T, firing up an errant shot that caromed into the hands of Drew Bell. Bell then found Wasmuth behind the 3-point line, again, according to plan.
But Wasmuth was blanketed by a Pana defender and was unable to get off a shot before the buzzer sounded, as Pana escaped with a 60-57 victory over its SCC-East rival.
"That last free throw, I asked Brenden to miss it," Jackson said. "And he did a great job of it. That was as good of a planned miss as you can get. We just weren't able to get a shot off. "
As a result, the Vandals suffered their 11th loss by 10 points or fewer this season.
"Unfortunately it's been the same story all too often," Jackson said. "It's disheartening for the kids and lots of folks. We come out every night and we're in the game, most nights, and we're not able to come out on top."
Making the setback all the more hard to swallow was the fact that Vandalia led for a majority of the game, with its biggest lead being a seven-point margin late in the first half following a Marty Johnson 3-pointer.
The Vandals (2-21) carried a 33-30 lead into halftime and maintained a narrow advantage throughout much of the third quarter by avoiding the offensive dry spells that have plagued them all year.
Unfortunately, Vandalia's offense sputtered over a crucial four-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, and the Panthers took advantage with an 8-0 run that put them up seven points with three minutes remaining.
The Vandals went 0-for-3 from the field during the stretch, in addition to committing a turnover and missing the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity.
"Overall, I wouldn't say that we played badly," Jackson said. "We did some good things. There was a spot there when we didn't do enough good things early in the fourth quarter, and that kind of hurt us.
"We had good looks, they just didn't go. There's nothing you can do about that."
The Vandals refused to give up, however, as Wasmuth came up with a 3-point play with 2 minutes remaining that cut Pana's lead to four, 56-52.
Mitch Johnson then came up with a steal and cut Pana's lead to just two points with a nifty spin move and bucket in the lane.
The Panthers looked to be in great shape, however, after hitting a pair of free throws and forcing a Vandalia turnover with less than a minute to go.
But Drew Bell quickly countered with a steal and a layup to cut Pana's lead to 58-56 with 33 seconds to go.
The Panthers once again looked to be out of the woods after it hit a pair of free throws and Vandalia missed an ill-advised 3-point attempt.
But Michael Lesser left the door wide open for the Vandals by missing two free throws, and Wasmuth was fouled beyond the arc.
Unfortunately, the Vandals' comeback came up a little short.
"That late in the ballgame, seven's a pretty big number to overcome," Jackson said. "We didn't quite get there. The kids played hard. We just needed to score 61."
Will Cowger scored a team-high 13 points for Vandalia, while Bell had 12 points and five rebounds. Mitch Johnson chipped in 10 points.
The Vandals did pull out a victory in the JV game, outscoring Pana 8-0 in overtime for a 51-43 win.
Marty Johnson led the way with 16 points, while Quinn Phillips added 15. Angel Osorio chipped in 11 points, and Drew Stewart had five.
Pana 14 16 14 14 16 - 60
Vandalia 13 20 12 12 - 57
Pana scoring - Ade 1 2-2 4, Beyers 1 0-2 2, Hinton 1 0-1 2, Lesser 2 0-0 4, Maziarz 1 0-0 3, Schmitz 5 4-7 14, Vernon 2 3-4 7, Waddington 11 2-2 24. Totals 24-44 11-18 60.
Vandalia scoring - Wollerman 2-2 0-0 4, Durr 1-3 0-0 3, Osorio 0 2-2 2, Cowger 5-12 3-4 13, Bell 5-11 2-2 12, Wasmuth 3 2-4 10, Mi. Johnson 5-6 0-1 10, Ma. Johnson 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 22-46 9-13 57.
3-point goals - Vandalia 4 (Wasmuth 2, Ma. Johnson, Durr), Pana 1 (Maziarz). Rebounds - Vandalia 18 (Bell 5), Pana 18. Turnovers - Vandalia 18, Pana 16.
Litchfield 48, Vandalia 35
The Vandals trailed the visiting Panthers (17-5 entering the game) by just two points with six minutes to go, but a slew of second-half turnovers - and a handful of illnesses - caught up to VCHS down the stretch, as the Panthers closed out the game on a 15-4 run.
Vandalia committed 13 of its 20 turnovers in the second half, and had as many turnovers as points (six) in the final period.
Litchfield wasn't exactly on fire itself; the Panthers hit just 37 percent from the field for the game. But its nine 3-pointers proved to be an X-factor against a Vandals' squad that was missing its top outside threat.
Wasmuth missed the game due to illness, as did coach Jackson. Leading scorer Mitch Johnson played, but was also under the weather.
Despite its various ailments, Vandalia trailed by just one point, 21-20, after a first half in which it shot 60 percent from the field (9 of 15) and committed just seven turnovers.
The Vandals committed seven turnovers in the third quarter alone, however, and Litchfield eventually took advantage of the Vandals' generosity.
Cowger led Vandalia with 10 points and five rebounds, while Mitch Johnson had eight points and six boards.
The JV Vandals also fell to the Purple Panthers, 51-38. Phillips led Vandalia with 16 points, while Osorio had 11 and Stewart had nine.
Litchfield 11 10 9 18 - 48
Vandalia 11 9 9 6 - 35
Vandalia scoring - Bell 3-6 0-0 7, Cowger 5-8 0-0 10, Durr 1-4 1-2 3, Ma. Johnson 1-5 0-0 2, Mi. Johnson 4-8 0-0 8, Wollerman 2-4 1-2 5. Totals 16-35 2-4 35.
Litchfield scoring - Bates 1 2-2 4, Govaia 5 0-0 14, Niehaus 4 4-8 15, Reimer 1 0-0 2, Robinson 3 1-3 8, Wyatt 1 2-2 5. Totals 15-38 9-15 48.
3-point goals - Litchfield 9 (Niehaus 3, Govaia 4, Robinson, Wyatt). Vandalia 1 (Bell). Rebounds - Vandalia 20 (Mi. Johnson 6, Cowger 5). Litchfield 20. Turnovers - Vandalia 20, Litchfield 13.
Last Tuesday's JV Box
Vandalia 44, Hillsboro 27
Vandalia scoring - Osorio 10, Ma. Johnson 10, Phillips 10, Stewart 6, Koonce 6, Norris 2.