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GREENVILLE – After his team posted a scoreless first quarter, Vandalia seventh-grade boys basketball coach Eric Sinclair had no worries.
This season, the Vandals have been slow starters in the majority of their games. Sinclair knew that and simply encouraged his players to continue fighting, knowing there was a good chance that they could find second-half success.
“It takes us a while to get going, especially on the road,” he said. “It’s not the first time this has happened.”
Turns out he was right.
Garrett Grimsley made two 3-pointers in a 20-second span at the end of the third quarter, moving the Vandals into a 20-20 tie with Greenville in the first round of the Illinois Elementary School Association regional tournament on the Blue Jays’ home court on Saturday.
The fifth-seeded Vandals then added four points in the final period while holding No. 4 Greenville to just one jumper to earn the upset victory, 24-22.
“We needed to execute a couple of plays, and we did that,” Sinclair said. “We were getting open looks all game, and we finally started knocking down shots.”
The solid shooting seemingly ended with the third period, however, as the Vandals missed their first four shots of the fourth quarter, but Greenville was able to capitalize only once before Enrique Jenner made a pair of shots to give Vandalia a 24-22 lead with 1:10 left in the game.
After Cody Woolsey pulled down a rebound on the ensuing Greenville possession, the Blue Jays began to intentionally foul. It took five fouls to put the Vandals into the bonus, and the typically spot-on Grimsley missed the team’s first bonus free throw.
“Garrett missed a free throw, which hardly ever happens,” Sinclair said. “In my head, I’m thinking, ‘That’s the Greenville luck.’”
Luck, however, was on the Vandals’ side, as right before Grimsley’s miss, an off-the-ball offensive foul negated a Blue Jays jumper, and earlier in the quarter, a Greenville shot spun around the inside of the rim but rolled out.
It was the exact opposite after the opening tip, though.
The Vandals had a very sluggish start, missing nine shots in the first period while Greenville slowly built a 6-0 lead.
Grant Wells got Vandalia on the board with 4:57 left in the first half by splitting two free throws after being fouled on an attempted second-chance layup. About a minute later, Dillon Beck made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 6-4.
Eli Bowen made a jumper with 19.9 seconds left in the half, and it appeared the Vandals would only trail 12-10 going into halftime, but the Blue Jays answered that score with a jumper of their own with about 3.5 seconds left.
In the first half, Greenville’s two post players scored 10 of the Blue Jays’ 14 points, but with some defensive adjustments, the Vandals held them to just four in the second half.
“I had Cody Woolsey playing a spot that he’s not used to playing, and he did great (shutting down Greenville’s post players),” Sinclair said.
On Monday, the Vandals were eliminated from the tournament by Nokomis. Turnovers played a major role in the 26-18 loss.
Saturday, Jan. 22
at Regional Tournament
Points – Grimsley, 8; Jenner, 6; Brandon Gelsinger, 4; Beck, 3; Bowen, 2; Wells, 1
Rebounds – Gelsinger, 5; Grimsley, 2; Jenner, 2; Woolsey, 2; Beck, 1; Kasey Jones, 1; Luke Tessman, 1; Wells, 1.
Blue Jays 6-8-6-2--22
Monday, Jan. 24
Points – Grimsley, 9; Beck, 3; Gelsinger, 2; Jones, 2; Tessman, 2.