Sometimes, you just have to give credit where credit is due – even if that credit is being heaped upon a bitter rival.
The Vandalia boys basketball team could not have played any harder than it did Friday night. The Vandals kept their opponents guessing by switching up defenses and did exactly what they wanted to do on the offensive end of the court.
Still, it wasn’t enough to upset a talented Greenville squad on its home court in a 57-44 loss.
‘I thought we did a pretty good job,’ VCHS coach Kevin Jackson said. ‘I think you can boil it down to one thing – they had more athletes on the floor that were able to improvise and make more plays than we did.’
An early spat of turnovers contributed to a first-quarter double-digit deficit for the Vandals, and seemed to signal a coming blowout, as Greenville enjoyed a 22-9 lead early in the second quarter.
But a stubborn Vandals team played even with the SCC-East’s front-runner the rest of the way, cutting the Comets’ lead to single digits on five occasions.
The Vandals were unable to get any closer than nine points of the Comets, however, as a pair of controversial calls sapped the momentum out of Vandalia’s comeback attempt.
The first incident occurred in the first half, as a potential Will Cowger three-point play was wiped out when the sophomore forward was whistled for traveling.
The play could have cut Greenville’s lead to just six, 22-16. Instead, Greenville immediately stretched its lead back out to double digits, and took a 31-19 lead into halftime on a Todd Eaton 3-pointer.
The Vandals cut that margin back down to 10, 33-23, early in the fourth quarter when Cowger stepped into the lane in an attempt to draw a charge on a driving Rutger Neece. Cowger appeared to have good position as the two players met, but he was whistled for a personal foul. Jackson audibly concurred, drawing a technical in the process.
Greenville capitalized with a four-point possession – hitting 2 of 4 free throws before adding a putback – and the Comets were never seriously threatened again.
A similar call went against the Vandals in the first half as well.
‘Unfortunately, a couple calls didn’t go our way when I felt our kids took some charges,’ Jackson said. ‘But they’re in control of the whistles, and we just didn’t get the calls tonight. That’s the way it goes.’
Despite being involved in a pair of crucial plays that didn’t go the Vandals’ way, Cowger had perhaps the best game of his young varsity career, going for 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Vandals were able to successfully work the ball into the 6-foot-3 forward at will against Greenville’s man-to-man defense once they started taking care of the ball.
‘Offensively, I think we executed pretty well,’ Jackson said. ‘We got the ball in the paint over and over and over, and that’s our bread and butter.
‘We either got to the line – where we didn’t shoot it quite as well as we would have liked – or we got scores.’
On the defensive end, the Vandals were able to create some havoc by switching up defenses. Greenville wound up with two more turnovers than the Vandals, 18-16, as VCHS did some trapping for the first time this year.
‘They did do a good job,’ Jackson said. ‘And when you’re in a situation like we are, you keep looking for something you can hang your hat on. Man-to-man-wise, we just don’t match up with those guys, so we knew we had to come with something a little different.’
But Greenville’s considerable athleticism – and Kyle Dannaman 12 second-half points – proved enough to hold the Vandals off.
‘We have to do things so right,’ Jackson said. ‘And we did, a lot of times we did.
‘I’m proud of our kids. I thought they gave a great effort. I thought they put a better team in a lot of adverse situations, and we just couldn’t overcome it.’
Friday’s Varsity Box
Vandalia 9 10 9 16 – 44
Greenville 18 13 15 11 – 57
Vandalia scoring – Cowger 9-17 2-2 20, Mi. Johnson 2-7 3-8 7, Bell 0-5 1-3 1, Wasmuth 1-3 3-3 6, Ma. Johnson 1-3 2-2 4, Durr 2-2 0-0 4, Wollerman 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 17-41 11-19 44.
Greenville scoring – Neece 4-9 2-4 10, Dierkes 3-4 0-1 6, Dannaman 8-14 0-0 18, Atchison 4-5 1-2 9, S. Eaton 2-2 1-2 5, Mulholland 1-4 3-4 6, T. Eaton 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 23-43 7-13 57.
3-point goals – Vandalia 1 (Wasmuth), Greenville 4 (Dannaman 2, Mulholland, T. Eaton). Rebounds – Vandalia 19 (Cowger 10), Greenville 26 (Atchison 7). Turnovers – Vandalia 16, Greenville 18.
St. Elmo 66, Vandalia 60
Despite fielding a nearly entirely new cast of characters, the Vandals gave a senior-laden Eagles squad a run for its money in a rematch of last year’s Altamont Regional title game.
Vandalia cut an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to just two down the stretch. Still, St. Elmo managed to get revenge on the Vandals, holding on for a win in the final game of the second annual Hosick Motors/First National Bank Shootout.
‘Our kids battled back and fought hard,’ Jackson said, ‘but we just got ourselves in too big a hole to get out of.’
The Eagles took the lead for good thanks to a 25-12 second-quarter advantage.
‘They went zone on us, and by the time we figured out how to handle it, it was a little too late,’ Jackson said.
Wade Nevergall continued his hot shooting for the Eagles, scoring a game-high 22 points on his way to earning game-MVP honors. The senior guard has averaged 21.8 points in St. Elmo’s past five games, four of which have been victories.
‘He played well,’ Jackson said. ‘(Colton) Booher didn’t score as much as we expected, but other guys stepped up.’
Richard Waterman added 15 points for St. Elmo, while Booher had 11.
The Vandals (2-18) were paced by Mitch Johnson’s 15 points. Austin Wollerman added 12, while Brenden Wasmuth scored 11.
The victory was St. Elmo’s first over Vandalia since 1996.
St. Elmo 13 25 11 17 – 66
Vandalia 16 12 10 22 – 60
St. Elmo scoring – Cameron 2 2-2 6, Nevergall 10 0-1 22, Waterman 5 5-9 15, Hill 4 0-1 12, Booher 4 2-4 11, Wright 0 0-0 0, Fritcher 0 0-0 0, Asher 0 0-0 0. Totals 25 9-17 66.
Vandalia scoring – Bell 3 1-2 7, Durr 2 0-0 6, Ma. Johnson 2 0-0 5, Cowger 2 0-0 4, Mi. Johnson 6 3-6 15, Wollerman 3 6-9 12, Wasmuth 4 0-0 11. Totals 22 10-17 60.