Something unusual was in the air Tuesday, both literally and figuratively, as the Vandalia boys basketball team closed out the home portion of its 2007-08 slate.
As an unseasonable thunderstorm lit up the night sky outside the VCHS gymnasium, the electricity generated inside by the Vandals’ Senior Night festivities was palpable as the home team took the floor against Fayette County rival South Central.
It carried on throughout the game, as the Vandals hung with another favored opponent right up until crunch time.
Familiar story, for sure. Only this time, with a very happy ending.
Staring another potentially heart-wrenching loss in the face, the Vandals did not blink on this occasion, pulling out a 60-53 overtime victory over the Cougars.
Vandals coach Kevin Jackson doesn’t know exactly what got into his team, which has found itself on the opposite end of the spectrum countless times prior to Tuesday. But he definitely will take the outcome after enduring 11 losses by 10 points or less.
‘It’s just one of those things,’ Jackson said. ‘I wish I knew. When we got down there, a few times, we just believed we could get it done.’
The Vandals really started believing with about a minute remaining, as Brenden Wasmuth came out of nowhere to block an Aaron Robb shot.
The senior guard then found Drew Bell downcourt for a transition bucket that tied the game at 47, setting up a wild final 57 seconds.
After the teams traded free throws, tying the game at 48, Vandalia senior Mitch Johnson faced a potentially nightmarish conclusion to his home career, as he turned the ball over to the Cougars with 12 seconds to go.
Johnson’s little brother, Marty, gave his big bro and the rest of the Vandals a shot at redemption, however, as he stripped the ball from Isaac Grapperhaus under the basket with one second to go, sending the game into overtime.
Wasmuth then opened the extra frame with a huge 3-pointer that permanently pushed Vandalia over the hump.
‘That was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,’ Wasmuth said. ‘Marty just penetrated and found me, and I just let it fly and it went in.’
The Vandals went on to outscore South Central 12-5 in the extra frame, making winners of Johnson and Wasmuth in their final home games.
‘I feel real good for Mitch and Brenden, because they get to leave with a win on their home floor,’ Jackson said. ‘They’ve worked hard. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. And I feel good for them to leave on the win.’
Wasmuth’s clutch 3-pointer was just part of a big-time overall game, as he pumped in 21 points and dished out four assists. Wasmuth helped the Vandals ice the game in O.T. by hitting 4 of 4 from the foul line.
Bell also stepped up in the clutch, hitting a key jumper in overtime and a pair of free throws in overtime to go along with his game-tying layup in regulation. The junior guard finished with 14 points and six rebounds.
Mitch Johnson added seven points, four rebounds and two assists in a victory that was gratifying on several levels.
‘South Central’s really one of the games I wanted to get this year, because I live so close, almost as close to South Central as I am to Vandalia,’ Johnson said. ‘We lost to them last year in overtime, so this was a good one.’
Wasmuth credited the upset, at least partially, to the Senior Night atmosphere.
‘It was just Senior Night,’ Wasmuth said. ‘Coach told us before the game that everybody’s got to go as hard as they can go and we just got a big win tonight.
‘This one goes to everybody on our team. Everyone pitched in a bunch tonight.’
South Central looked to have all the momentum in the world with about 2 1/2 minutes to go, as Tanner Bushue came up with a steal and two-handed flush to give the Cougars (17-7) a 47-43 lead.
But after a Vandalia turnover, Bushue fouled out going after his own missed shot, giving Vandalia a mental boost heading into the final two minutes.
The Vandals also managed to overcome an early nine-point first-half deficit and a rough stretch in the third quarter in which they turned the ball over on five straight possessions, fueling an 8-0 South Central run.
The Vandals countered with an 8-0 run capped by a buzzer-beating Bell jumper that put them up 38-36 heading into the third quarter, signaling that it might be Vandalia’s night.
Turns out, it was.
‘I’m proud of all of them, because they could have folded the tent a long time ago, and they haven’t,’ said Jackson, whose team moved to 3-21 on the year. ‘… Maybe we’ll put ourselves in position to make a little noise down the stretch, I don’t know.’
The Vandals were also victorious in junior varsity play, as Drew Stewart scored 14 points to lead VCHS to a 55-42 win over the Cougars.
Angel Osorio added 12 for the Vandals, who shot 54 percent from the field (25 of 46). Marty Johnson chipped in eight points for Vandalia (7-7), while Cory Bunker had seven and Quinn Phillips scored six.
South Central 7 16 13 12 5 – 53
Vandalia 6 15 17 0 12 – 60
South Central scoring – Burton 1-2 0-0 2, Bushue 2-7 3-4 7, Crain 3-12 1-4 9, Grapperhaus 9-14 6-9 24, Robb 4-10 0-0 11, Thomas 0-2 0-0 0, Hall 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-47 10-17 53.
Vandalia scoring – Bell 6-8 2-4 14, Cowger 2-8 2-4 6, Ma. Johnson 3-4 0-0 7, Mi. Johnson 2-9 3-9 7, Osorio 0-0 0-0 0, Wasmuth 5-10 7-8 21, Wollerman 2-3 1-2 5. Totals 20-42 15-27 60.
3-point goals – Vandalia 5 (Wasmuth 4, Ma. Johnson), South Central 5 (Robb 3, Crain 2). Rebounds – Vandalia 26 (Cowger 10, Bell 6), South Central 24 (Bushue 8, Grapperhaus 8). Turnovers – Vandalia 19, South Central 13. Fouled out – Bushue. Records – Vandalia is 3-21, South Central is 17-7