The end of the 2007-08 season – much like the beginning – did not play out the way the VJHS seventh-grade boys basketball team hoped it would.
What happened in between, however, made it a very memorable year in the eyes of seventh-year Junior Vandals coach Doug Forbes.
‘This is probably the best year I’ve had since I’ve been coaching,’ said Forbes, whose team won 18 of 20 games after an 0-2 start – including a perfect 8-0 run through the Junior Mid-State Conference.
But host Edwardsville Liberty ended the Junior Vandals’ postseason run a win shy of a Class 4A regional title last Thursday by rolling to a 43-32 win.
Liberty used its formidable athleticism and a big rebounding advantage to break open a 6-6 game with a 16-2 run in the second quarter.
The host team enjoyed a 22-6 halftime advantage, thanks in large part to a 15-9 rebounding edge, including a big 6-0 advantage on the offensive glass.
Liberty extended its lead to 18 points by the end of the third quarter, as the Junior Vandals’ continued to struggle adjusting to the host team’s quickness.
‘It’s hard to simulate somebody’s quickness,’ Forbes said. ‘We just don’t play a 4A schedule. If we played (bigger) teams like that consistently, I feel like we’d be able to play with them.’
Vandalia did close out the game strong, however, outscoring Liberty 16-6 in the final quarter.
‘I was proud of them for fighting back into it and making a game out of it,’ Forbes said. ‘I was just proud of them for not throwing in the towel.’
Leyton Godoyo pumped in a team-high 14 points for Vandalia (18-5), while Tim Ritchey scored all 13 of his points in the second half.
Aaron Harter chipped in five points, but just three Junior Vandals registered in the scoring column – an ironic trend, considering balance had been a constant throughout the season.
‘From top to bottom, they’re all pretty good players,’ said Forbes.
The Junior Vandals’ balance was just one aspect Forbes liked about the team.
‘They’re also pretty unselfish,’ Forbes said. ‘And they get up and guard people on defense. We try to key everything off our defense.’
The Junior Vandals came into the season with four goals: winning the season-opening Pana Tournament, winning their own tournament, winning conference and winning a regional title.
Though they came up shy of accomplishing all four tasks, they pulled off their third goal with a bullet.
‘Sweeping the conference was definitely the season highlight,’ Forbes said. ‘And we won all our home games.’
The eighth-grade Junior Vandals also pulled off an undefeated league slate, signaling the future of Vandalia basketball is very bright.
‘As far as I know, it’s not happened since I played in junior high in the late 80s,’ said Forbes of both teams sweeping their conference slates. ‘We’re excited about where Vandal basketball is headed.’
Vandalia 4 4 8 16 – 32
Liberty 6 14 14 6 – 43
Vandalia scoring – Godoyo 6 2-3 14, Ritchey 3 6-6 13, Harter 2 1-2 5. Totals 11 9-11 32.
Liberty scoring – Gulledge 0 1-2 1, Curtis 4 0-0 9, Weller 1 0-0 2, Covington 3 0-2 7, Roundtree 1 5-8 7, Smith 1 0-0 2, Harris 5 4-6 14. Totals 15 9-18 43.
Record – Vandalia finishes 18-5.
Edwardsville Lincoln 17
The Junior Vandals staved off Lincoln’s upset bid, as Godoyo scored a game-high 10 points.
Aaron Harter added six for Vandalia, which used a 12-6 second-quarter advantage to take a 16-10 lead into halftime before holding off Lincoln in the final 12 minutes.
Ritchey chipped in four points for Vandalia, while Wade Cowger rounded up the Junior Vandals’ scoring with two points.