Lady Vandals win Mattoon Tournament

With the bitter disappointment of Thursday’s overtime loss to Marion still fresh in the Lady Vandals’ minds, and their Mattoon Christmas Tournament title hopes hinging on a Friday evening game against MacArthur, the VCHS girls basketball team did what many squads before them have done.

They turned to Hollywood for inspiration.

And as it turns out, inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources.

‘We were talking about going to see ‘National Treasure’ and a bunch of other ones,’ said Lady Vandals junior Laura Hobbie with a laugh. ‘But we wound up going to see ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

Not exactly ‘Hoosiers’ or ‘Rudy’ material, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

‘I think that got us a little closer,’ said Lady Vandals guard Shelby Cearlock of the experience. ‘I think that’s what we needed.’

The Lady Vandals emerged from the theater a tighter team – and it showed on the court, as they went on to knock off MacArthur, 48-39, in Friday’s semifinal round before taking the title with a 36-25 win over Flora in Saturday’s championship.

It was the Lady Vandals first title in 15 tries since entering the tournament back in 1992, a fact not lost on Hobbie and her teammates.

‘It feels great,’ said Hobbie. ‘We definitely wanted to be the first to win it.’

Vandalia had come close twice before, finishing second in 2004 and 2002, making the victory all the more emotional for longtime coach Mike Butler.

‘We’ve been coming up here a long time,’ Butler said. ‘We’ve finished second twice, and were so close both times, so this feels good. I’m just so proud of these guys.’

The key to the Lady Vandals’ success was no secret – great defense.

Vandalia surrendered just 36 points per game in five tournament games, saving their best defensive effort for Flora.

Normally a high-scoring bunch, the Lady Wolves shot just 29 percent from the floor (9 of 31) against Vandalia’s 2-3 zone.

‘It was all about defense tonight,’ Butler said. ‘I think that’s a team that’s not used to having 25 per game. I think they were frustrated from the get-go.’

Ironically so, considering Flora normally a great outside shooting team. But the Lady Wolves finished just 3 of 12 from behind the arc, as Vandalia proved that you can defend the 3-point shot with a zone defense.

‘They have amazing 3-point shooters, and we just got on them every time,’ Hobbie said. ‘I think that was a big key to our win tonight.’

Vandalia (12-3) took control with a 14-3 run to close out the first half, opening up a 25-15 lead at the midway point.

The Lady Vandals were able to either drive to the basket or feed the low post at will, as Flora’s man-to-man defense played directly into their hands.

‘When we face man-to-man like that, we run our motion offense and try to spread things out,’ Butler said. ‘When we do that, we get a lot of good basket cuts, and we can get easy baskets. That happened tonight for us.’

The Lady Vandals also found themselves in the bonus at the 5:35 mark of the second quarter, and they made the Lady Wolves pay, hitting 10 of 13 free throws in the first half.

A Cearlock steal and fast-break bucket highlighted Vandalia’s second-quarter surge, leaving the team confident at intermission, but still leery, considering it nearly saw a big lead slip away the night before against MacArthur.

‘At halftime I thought, ‘This is our game,” Cearlock said. ‘But we knew we’d have to keep it up. Yesterday against MacArthur we came out and played a horrible game in the second half.’

Like the MacArthur game, Vandalia wound up scoring just 12 points in the second half against Flora. But unlike that game, the Lady Vandals maintained its defensive focus, as the Lady Wolves only managed 10 second-half points.

Flora was never able to get any closer than nine points of the Lady Vandals, despite long offensive dry spells by the tourney champs.

‘That’s what we told them in the timeout (in the fourth quarter),’ Butler said. ‘As long as we keep that lead around the 10 mark, we’d be in good shape the way were playing defense.’

Hobbie capped what turned out to be a tournament-MVP performance with seven points and seven rebounds in the title game. The junior forward averaged 13.6 points per game during a grueling three-day, five-game slate in which the Lady Vandals emerged with a 4-1 record.

‘It was rough – it was very rough,’ Hobbie said. ‘We were all tired. But (after staying at a hotel the first two nights), we were all able to go home last night and get a good night’s rest. That really helped.’

Cearlock joined Hobbie on the all-tournament team after posting 13 ppg over five games, including 11 in the title game to tie for team-high honors with Cassie Warner.

Though most onlookers marveled at the Lady Vandals’ talented junior class – which includes starters Warner, Cearlock, Hobbie and Amanda Walton – Hobbie and Cearlock made sure to give props to seniors Julianna Banal and Emily Shields.

‘I’ve got to give it to her, she plays amazing defense,’ Cearlock said of Banal. ‘Emily’s a great passer and a great screener, and she’s always there for us. Even though they’re not big scorers, I think we’re going to hurt next year without them.’

Cearlock admits the Lady Vandals were hurting after falling to Marion.

‘I never thought we’d be in the championship,’ Cearlock said. ‘I, for sure, thought we were going to be playing Marion (in the third-place game), and it was going to be another upset.’

Now Cearlock hopes her team can use a pleasant surprise as a springboard to bigger and better things.

‘To come out and win the Mattoon Tournament is so big for us right now,’ Cearlock said. ‘We’re all motivated and now I think we have the drive to pursue and win every game.’

Her coach agreed.

‘I really can’t say enough about how hard they worked this week,’ Butler said. ‘We just have to keep it going.’

Championship Box Score

Flora 7 8 6 4 – 25

Vandalia 10 15 6 5 – 36

Vandalia scoring – Walton 1 1-2 3, Warner 2 7-8 11, Shields 1 0-0 2, Banal 1 0-0 2, Cearlock 5 1-2 11, Hobbie 2 3-7 7. Totals 12-26 12-19 36.

Records – Vandalia is 12-3, Flora is 13-5.

Friday’s semifinal

Vandalia 48, MacArthur 39

Vandalia clinched a spot in the title game by building a huge first-half lead and holding on, despite a sub-par second half.

Vandalia enjoyed a 36-12 lead at intermission, only to see MacArthur trim the Lady Vandals’ lead to seven in the fourth quarter.

Hobbie helped Vandalia hold the Generals off, going for 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven steals. Banal added 10 points for the Lady Vandals.

Friday’s Semifinal Box

MacArthur 7 5 12 15 – 39

Vandalia 19 17 6 6 – 48

Vandalia scoring – Banal 4 2 10, Cearlock 2 2 7, Hobbie 8 1 17, Walton 3 1 7, Warner 3 1 7.

Record – MacArthur is 10-6.

Friday’s Pool Game

Vandalia 49, Gibault 25

The Lady Vandals held Gibault to 16 percent shooting from the floor (7 for 43) in a dominating victory.

Hobbie scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Cearlock had 13 points and three steals. Banal chipped in six points and five rebounds.

Box Score

Vandalia 16 11 16 6 – 49

Gibault 3 5 9 8 – 25

Vandalia scoring – Hobbie 6-10 1-1 13, Walton 1-3 4-4 6, Warner 2-5 1-2 5, Cearlock 4-7 2-2 13, Banal 2-6 2-3 6, Durbin 0-0 1-2 1, Houston 0-2 0-0 0, Shields 1-1 0-0 2, Bennett 0-1 1-2 1, Dodson 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 17-36 12-17 49.

Thursday’s Pool Games

Marion 55, Vandalia 51

Overtime

Cassie Rushing hit a pair of key 3-pointers in overtime to help Marion hold off the Lady Vandals.

Marion appeared to be in charge until the Lady Vandals used a fourth-quarter push for force overtime. Warner led the way with 17 points – including a pair of free throws to tie the game late – while Hobbie had 16.

Box Score

Vandalia 12 10 13 16 – 51

Marion 9 10 13 23 – 55

Vandalia scoring – Banal 3 1 7, Cearlock 2 0 5, Hobbie 6 4 16, Walton 2 2 6, Warner 5 7 17.

Vandalia 56, Mattoon 38

Cearlock scored a season-high 29 points to help the Lady Vandals roll past the host team. Hobbie added 15 in the win.

Box Score

Mattoon 8 9 8 13 – 38

Vandalia 17 11 15 13 – 56

Vandalia scoring – Banal 2 0 4, Cearlock 9 5 29, Hobbie 6 3 15, Walton 1 0 2, Warner 3 0 6. Totals 21 8 56.

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