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Wesclin managed to overcome the magic that seems to accompany South Central every time it steps on the court at Vandalia Community High School.
But just barely.
After watching the Cougars erase an 11-point fourth quarter deficit and force overtime on Will Crain's buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the top-seeded Indians held off South Central in the extra frame for a 54-51 victory in the championship game of the 36 Annual Vandalia Holiday Tournament Saturday night.
The title was the Warriors' third in a row and a record seventh overall.
But it was anything but easy.
"We did a lot to give it away," Wesclin coach Brent Brede said. "We missed some free throws and turned the ball over a few times and got a little complacent with the lead that we had. But give South Central credit.
"They had a lot of momentum going into the overtime, so we were happy to get out of there with a win."
The Cougars had an opportunity to take the lead with 12 seconds remaining in OT, but they missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, signaling the end of their valiant push to win the program's fourth VHT title.
Wesclin's Casey Ainslie followed with two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining to give the Warriors a three-point lead, and desperation 3-pointer by the Cougars was off the mark as time expired.
Such an opportunity seemed to be a pipe dream moments earlier, as the second-seeded Cougars (10-4) trailed by 11 points, 40-29, with about 51/2 minutes remaining in regulation.
South Central outscored Wesclin 16-6 the rest of the way, however, with Crain scored 10 points during the run - including a contested 3 to force OT.
Remarkably, the Cougars embarked on their comeback without all-tournament selection Isaac Grapperhaus, who fouled out with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation.
"That's just a lot of heart on our kids' part, and I think that was something that was pretty telling, to me," said South Central coach Gary Shirley of the comeback. "The kids gave everything they had."
A Tanner Bushue jumper tied the game at 48 with 2:10 to go in the bonus period, but Ainslie came right back with a bucket that put Wesclin ahead for good with 1:45 remaining.
Wesclin pushed its lead to four with a pair of free throws after a South Central turnover, but Aaron Robb kept the Cougars hopes alive with a 3-pointer that cut Wesclin's lead to just one, 52-51.
After Ainslie converted 1 of 2 free throws with 36 seconds to go, South Central came up empty on its next trip down the floor. The Warriors left the door wide open, however, missing a pair of free throws with 18 seconds remaining.
But South Central ran out of magic - and players - in the closing seconds. Bushue and Crain both fouled out in the final minute, as the Warriors (12-1) escaped.
Despite the loss, South Central showed that its early-season struggles are a distant memory. The Cougars finished the tournament with a 4-1 record, pushing one of the top Class 2A teams to the brink in a championship game few could have envisioned a couple weeks prior.
"This is one of those games that you probably nit-pick it to death," Shirley said. "But Trenton's a nice team. We wanted to be in this game. We got here. We did what we could with it. It's over. Now we've got to move on.
Robb finished with 14 points, while Bushue added 11. Bushue, who averaged 16.8 points per game over South Central's five games, joined Grapperhaus on the all-tournament team. Grapperhaus averaged a double-double (13.2 ppg, 10.4 ppg) over five games.
Crain capped a terrific all-around tournament with 16 points and six rebounds against Wesclin. The 5-10 senior sparkplug averaged 10.8 ppg and 6.2 rpg in the tournament, in addition to playing great defense. But it wasn't enough to land him a spot on the all-tournament team.
"I know that after the first game or two, Will probably didn't deserve to be on the all-tournament team," Shirley said. "But these last three games, you couldn't ask him to work any harder than he did, or give any more than what he gave. He's just our little workhorse, he really is."
Ainslie sewed up an all-tournament selection by hitting 9 of 11 from the field for 24 points in the title game. Sean Rakers added 13 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks, taking home tournament-MVP honors for the second-straight season.
The 6-7 senior center averaged 19.4 ppg and 10.3 rpg.
Raker's shot-blocking ability contributed to the Cougars' early offensive struggles, as they scored just 13 points in the first half.
"We tried too hard on our shots in the first half," Shirley said. "We were anticipating getting blocked or challenged a little bit more than what they had been, and I think they changed too much."
The Warriors became the tournament's first three-peat winner since Vandalia won the third of five-consecutive titles back in 1979.
South Central 5 8 12 21 5 - 51
Wesclin 6 16 14 10 8 - 54
South Central scoring - Burton 2-3 0-0 4, Bushue 4-15 1-2 11, Grapperhaus 1-7 0-0 2, Crain 5-17 3-6 16, Hall 1-4 0-0 2, Robb 4-10 4-6 14, Thomas 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 18-50 8-14 51.
Wesclin scoring - Ainslie 9-11 2-6 24, Bair 2-5 0-3 4, Rakers 5-14 3-5 13, Fuhler 1-3 2-4 5, Shaw 1-1 6-7 8, Haselhorst 0-2 0-0 0, Kunz 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 18-37 14-25 54.
3-point goals - South Central 7-24 (Bushue 2-8, Crain 3-9, Hall 0-1, Robb 2-4), Wesclin 4-11 (Ainslie 3-3, Bair 0-2, Fuhler 1-3, Haselhorst 0-2, Kunz 0-1). Rebounds - South Central 21 (Crain 6, Burton 4), Wesclin 30 (Rakers 13, Ainslie 6). Turnovers - South Central 8, Wesclin 16. Fouls - South Central 25, Wesclin 13. Fouled out - Bushue, Grapperhaus, Crain. Records - South Central is 10-4, Wesclin is 12-1.
South Central 69,
The Cougars clinched a spot in the title game with perhaps their best all-around effort of the year.
After four ties and seven lead changes in the first 15 minutes, South Central took charge for good with a 5-0 spurt at the end of the first half, taking a 35-30 lead into halftime. Grapperhaus scored all five points during the run, taking advantage of the absence of Stew-Stras' Phil Wetherell, who sat out the final minute after getting his third foul.
The Cougars then extended to a double-digit lead in the third quarter on the strength of a Bushue scoring outburst. The junior swingman netted 13 of his game-high 29 points during the period, as the Cougars took a 50-39 lead into the final frame.
South Central extended its lead to as many as 14 points in the fourth, and cruised the rest of the way.
Crain had a spectacular all-around game for the Cougars, scoring 16 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, dishing out five assists and grabbing three steals. He also held Stew-Stras star Ben Giertz to 15 points - a lion's share of which came after the Cougars had seized control.
Grapperhaus added his third double-double of the tournament, finishing with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Bushue canned 11 of 15 field goal attempts on his way to a season-high in points.
Stew-Stras 16 14 9 19 - 58
South Central 13 22 15 19 - 69
South Central scoring - Burton 0-4 0-0 0, Bushue 11-15 2-2 29,Grapperhaus 6-16 6-7 18, Crain 4-7 6-9 16, Robb 2-3 2-3 6, Hall 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 16-21 69.
South Central 61, Flora 51
Too much Grapperhaus on the inside, too much Robb from the outside, and too much Bushue from, well - everywhere - proved to be too much for Flora to overcome against the Cougars.
Grapperhaus finished with 19 points - including 9 for 9 shooting from the charity stripe - to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks. Robb added 13 points, including 3 of 5 shooting from 3-point range.
Bushue was also 3 for 5 from beyond the arc, and the junior added an old-fashioned 3-point play on a steal and a one-handed flush late in the fourth quarter, capping a 17-point performance.
The Cougars took control with a 11-2 run at the start of the second quarter, hitting 3 of 3 3-pointers during the stretch. South Central went on to take a commanding 36-20 lead into the locker room.
Flora cut South Central's lead to six in the fourth quarter, but the Cougars regained control when Grapperhaus completed a 3-point play after a perfect lob pass into the low post by Bushue.
Crain chipped in six points, but his defensive effort against Wolves standout Ian Ridge was key to the victory. Ridge scored just six points on 1 for 9 shooting, as Crain used his quickness to overcome Ridge's 8-inch height advantage.
The Cougars shot 50 percent from the field (20 for 40) and 88 percent from the foul line (14 of 16).
South Central 15 21 8 17 - 61
Flora 13 7 11 20 - 51
South Central scoring - Hall 1-2 0-0 2, Crain 1-4 3-4 6, Burton 2-5 0-0 4, Bushue 6-12 2-3 17, Grapperhaus 5-9 9-9 19, Robb 5-7 0-0 13, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-40 14-16 61.
South Central 43,
The third time was a charm for the Cougars against Altamont.
South Central avenged a pair of losses to the Indians earlier this month by closing out the game on a 6-0 run, as the Indians picked the wrong day to go into a shooting slump.
After hitting just 24 of 67 from the field (36 percent) in a tournament-opening loss to Stew-Stras, Altamont shot a woeful 22 percent against the Cougars (14 of 65), including 7 for 34 shooting from 3-point range.
Still, the Indians were in position to steal a victory after a Kieffer McCarron basket tied the game at 37 with 1:53 to go, completing a comeback from a deficit that stood at 12 points late in the third quarter.
But the Cougars quickly regained the lead on a Grapperhaus putback with 1:43 to go, and Robb hit a pair of free throws after one of Altamont's 27 3-point misses to give South Central a 41-37 lead with a minute remaining.
Bushue added a transition bucket for insurance, and Altamont missed three more 3-point attempts before the final buzzer sounded.
Grapperhaus led the Cougars with 14 points and 17 rebounds, while Bushue had 15 points and eight rebounds. McCarron was held to six points on 3 for 12 shooting, and South Central had a 35-22 advantage on the boards.
Altamont 8 9 6 14 - 37
South Central 10 16 5 12 - 43
South Central - Burton 4-4 0-0 8, Bushue 7-17 0-0 15, Grapperhaus 5-12 4-6 14, Crain 2-4 0-4 4, Hall 0-3 0-0 0, Robb 0-2 2-2 2, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-43 6-12 43.
South Central 63,
The Cougars played their best all-around game of the young season, opening the tournament in fine fashion with a dominating win over the Panthers.
South Central took control for good with an 11-2 run at the start of the second quarter, and held the dynamic Pana post duo of Colten Waddington and Frank Schmitz to just 11 points apiece. The Panthers' top two scoring threats came into the game averaging over 36 points combined.
Grapperhaus led a balanced Cougars attack with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Crain and Bushue each hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 12 points apiece. Robb chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Cougars shot 51 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Panthers, 29-17.
Pana 7 5 14 11 - 42
South Central 11 22 14 16 - 63
South Central scoring - Burton 2-7 2-2 6, Bushue 5-8 2-4 12, Grapperhaus 5-10 3-3 13, Crain 4-7 2-5 12, Hall 3-5 0-0 6, Robb 5-7 0-0 10, Thomas 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 25-49 9-12 63.