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Though the Vandalia boys basketball team led by 10 points or more for most of the game, the Staunton Bulldogs launched a fourth-quarter comeback that closed the gap to three points with 50 seconds remaining Saturday.
Fortunately, the Vandals responded by making several foul shots in the final seconds of the contest to capture their first conference victory of the season, 70-61, at Staunton.
It was also was the squad's first road win of the season, and, combined with last week's victory over South Central, the team is riding a two-game winning streak.
For the season, the Vandals are now 4-21.
Senior Brenden Wasmuth led the Vandals in scoring, setting a career high for the second straight game with 22 points, including three three-pointers. He has now scored in double figures four straight games.
Wasmuth's effort spearheaded one of the Vandals' best offensive efforts of the season.
"The intensity level was there," said Vandals coach Kevin Jackson. "We got off on the right foot in the first half - moving the ball well and jumping out to take the lead. And then we responded well when they brought it out to us and cut the lead down to three with a minute to go.
"Brenden had a nice ballgame. He did a good job of taking the ball inside and kicking it back out."
The Bulldogs held a 15-13 lead after the first quarter, but the Vandals took charge in the second quarter, extending their lead to 34-20 at halftime by scoring 21 and holding Staunton to only five points.
In the third quarter, Staunton cut the lead to five at the 5-minute mark, but the Vandals pushed the margin back to 10 points on buckets by Mitch and Marty Johnson. In the final minute of the quarter, baskets by Will Cowger, Drew Bell and a three-point buzzer-beater by Marty Johnson gave the Vandals their biggest lead of the game, 49-34.
Staunton began cutting into the Vandals lead in the fourth quarter, thanks to a full-court trapping defense and a string of Vandalia turnovers.
With three minutes to go, the Bulldogs were within seven, 56-49.
By the final minute of the contest, the score was 64-58 in favor of Vandalia. A Staunton free throw and a steal on a Vandal inbounds play that resulted in a Bulldog bucket cut the margin to 64-61 with 50 seconds remaining. But a breakaway layup by Bell and foul shots by Mitch Johnson, Marty Johnson and Wasmuth gave the Vandals a nine-point lead at the buzzer, 70-61.
Staunton outscored the Vandals 27-21 in the final quarter, but couldn't overcome the 15-point margin built up during the second and third quarters.
The Vandals used a balanced scoring attack to secure the victory. Behind Wasmuth's 22, Bell added a dozen, Wollerman and Marty Johnson had 10 apiece, Mitch Johnson had nine and Cowger had eight.
"We feel good about the situation now," Jackson said. "We've beaten South Central and Staunton, and now going out we have Roxanna and Pana before we head into the regionals."
Jackson said his players have gained confidence in the two late-season victories. "We now have the 'belief' factor," he said.
Vandalia 13 21 15 21 - 70
Staunton 15 5 14 27 - 61
Vandalia scoring - Bell 5 2-3 12, Cowger 4 0-0 8, Durr 0 0-0 0, Ma. Johnson 3 2-2 10, Mi. Johnson 3 3-6 9, Wasmuth 5 8-10 22, Wollerman 3 4-6 10. Totals 23 19-27 70.
Staunton scoring - Best 3 2-2 8, Homeier 1 0-0 3, Loots 5 3-4 16, Mihelcic 5 4-7 16, Podwojski 3 1-2 7, Rhodes 3 3-4 10, Wright 0 2-2 2. Totals 20 15-21 61.
3-point goals - Vandalia 5 (Wasmuth 3, Ma. Johnson 2), Staunton 6 (Loots 3, Homeier, Mihelcic, Rhodes 1).