HILLSBORO – Unlike the first time the teams matched up on Feb. 5, Teutopolis was not going to let the Vandals hang around in last Friday’s regional championship game.
Vandalia trailed by as few as two points in the second half of that first matchup, but the Wooden Shoes used strong man-to-man defense and transition offense to take a 12-point lead after the first quarter of an 85-48 rout.
Playing in a regional championship game for the second straight season, the Vandals never could get into an offensive or defensive flow following T-Town’s quick start at the Class 2A Hillsboro Regional.
“I thought we played hard, but it wasn’t our best game,” said coach Brian Buscher. “We were on our A game for spurts the first time, but we didn’t have it tonight and they were, by far, the superior team.”
The Wooden Shoes eventually won 75-47 in that first matchup, and scored at least 22 points in half of this season’s eight quarters against the Vandals.
Vandalia (15-13) forced turnovers on the first two possessions for the Wooden Shoes (26-3), and after a 3-pointer from senior Aaron Harter, trailed just 11-9 with 3:17 left in the opening quarter.
Teutopolis followed with several quick baskets for a 13-3 run that lasted the rest of the period, before becoming a 21-3 run when Vandalia was unable to score in the first half of the second quarter.
The Shoes led by 21 at halftime, and never slowed down in the second half, scoring 45 points in the final 16 minutes.
“Our guys played as hard as they could physically,” Buscher said. “We’re still a winning team, but you have to earn a regional championship.”
Harter paced the team’s offense with 14 points, while senior Chase Woolsey scored nine and senior Michael Wells had eight points and a team-high five rebounds.
The team’s other seniors – Leyton Godoyo and Wade Cowger – had seven and two points, respectively, and Godoyo added three rebounds and a steal, and Cowger added two rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.
Friday, Feb. 22
Points: Harter, 14; Ch. Woolsey, 9; Wells, 8; Godoyo, 7; Colton Woolsey, 6; Cowger, 2; Collin Nestleroad, 2.
Rebounds: Wells, 5; Team, 4; Godoyo, 3; Ch. Woolsey, 3; Cowger, 2; Nestleroad, 2; Harter, 1; Co. Woolsey, 1.
Assists: Cowger, 2; Nestleroad, 2; Wells, 1; Ch. Woolsey, 1.
Steals: Co. Woolsey, 2; Cowger, 1; Godoyo, 1; Harter, 1; Ch. Woolsey, 1.
Blocks: Cowger, 1; Harter, 1.
Coach Brian Buscher has known all season that senior Wade Cowger could be a scorer.
But because Cowger is such a good ball handler, he has mostly been relied on to be a passer, while chipping in occasional points.
That changed in last Wednesday’s regional semifinal at Hillsboro, as Cowger exploded for a career-high 18 points – triple his season-high – to lead the Vandals to a 62-52 victory against the Hiltoppers.
“He hit a couple of shots that he doesn’t normally hit,” Buscher said. “When he doesn’t hit them, he stops taking them, so on Wednesday, he kept shooting them.
“He is one of the hardest workers we have,” he said. “His scoring night was well-deserved.”
Cowger had 14 of his points in the first half to help the second-seeded Vandals (15-12) build a lead against No. 6 Hillsboro (7-22), but the Hiltoppers chipped away at that lead several times during the game.
Senior Chase Woolsey’s dunk that gave Vandalia a 60-50 lead late in the fourth quarter proved to be a difference-maker in what at times had been a close game, with the Vandals' lead fluctuating between three and 15 points for much of the game.
Hillsboro’s only points following Woolsey’s dunk were from sophomore Dylan Miller, who had a game-high 30, with about 10 seconds left to play.
“He just kept hitting shots,” Buscher said of Miller. “Anytime he touched it, he did a nice, nice job, and he’s going to be a heck of a post player for the next two years.”
Miller scored consistently throughout the game, including seven straight points in the first quarter and six straight points in the fourth quarter.
The game opened with Vandalia taking a 16-4 lead before Miller took over to cut the lead to five.
In the second period, the Vandals used an 8-0 run to take a 27-13 lead, but the Hiltoppers then went on an 11-2 scoring run of their own to cut it back to five points.
Back-to-back steals for the Vandals on Hillsboro inbound passes completed an 8-0 run over the final 1:20 of the first half, giving them a 13-point halftime lead.
“We went back to the press, and those steals got the lead and the momentum back up before the half,” Buscher said. “That was huge.”
The Hiltoppers would cut the lead back to five in the third quarter, and eventually got within three points early in the fourth quarter.
But Hillsboro scored just three points in the final five minutes of the game, while the Vandals added eight points to seal the victory, which gave the Vandals 15 wins for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons.
Wednesday, Feb. 20
Points: Cowger, 18; Godoyo, 17; Ch. Woolsey, 13; Wells, 10; Harter, 4.