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DIVERNON - The Vandalia seventh-grade girls basketball team's pressure defense helped carry it all the way to the Divernon Sectional by harassing and frustrating the opposition throughout the season.
But on Wednesday night, the Junior Lady Vandals met their match, as Auburn stopped Vandalia just one win short of the state tournament with relentless defensive pressure and the scoring touch of guard Shelby Mangold in a 30-16 win in the Divernon Sectional title game.
Due in large part to Auburn's 'D,' the Junior Lady Vandals committed 20 turnovers and were unable to get into any rhythm offensively.
Combined with Mangold's ability to get into the lane with dribble penetration and finish with an assortment of running bank shots, it was too much for Vandalia to overcome, as Mangold finished with a game-high 12 points.
Both teams appeared a bit nervous early on, playing in front of a huge crowd with a state berth on the line. But Auburn took charge with a 6-0 run late in the first quarter, including a buzzer-beater that gave it an 8-2 advantage.
The Lady Junior Vandals kept pace with Auburn throughout the second quarter, but a buzzer-beating 24-footer by Annie Jesep gave the host team a commanding 15-6 lead heading into halftime.
Auburn extended its lead to double digits early in the third quarter, but the Lady Vandals refused to give up, scoring back-to-back buckets at the end of the quarter to cut Auburn's lead to 19-12 heading into the final period.
But Auburn responded with a decisive 8-0 run, as Mangold scored two baskets and assisted on another. The Junior Lady Vandals fueled the run by committing three straight turnovers.
Morgan Whightsil led the Junior Lady Vandals in the rebound department with 11, to go along with four points. Brittany Anspach pumped in a team-high six points and came away with five steals. Katie Koonce added four points and five rebounds, while Haley Cothern had two points and Abby Dugan had three rebounds.
The Junior Lady Vandals finished the year with a 13-7 record and a regional title - but they could be in for even bigger things next season, as classmate Amber Bruno will rejoin them after playing with the eighth-grade team this year.