Fittingly, on a night in which a team-first player, senior Laura Hobbie, was recognized for reaching a career scoring milestone, the Vandalia girls basketball squad demonstrated how it has used outstanding teamwork to ascend to the ranks of the top-10 Class 2A teams in the state.
Parlaying suffocating defense and unselfish play on offense into countless layup opportunties, the Lady Vandals shot a blistering 63 percent from the floor over the first three quarters Monday against visiting Litchfield before rolling to a 74-50 thrashing of the Purple Panthers, improving to 8-0 overall and 3-0 in the SCC-East.
Hobbie was honored prior to the game for reaching the 1,000-point plateau Saturday in a win at Neoga – a mark that is all-the-more impressive considering it was reached within the team concept.
"I think Laura is a perfect example of a team player, and her reaching the 1,000-point mark is an accomplishment she can be very proud of," Lady Vandals coach Mike Butler said.
Hobbie went on to post her typical solid line against Litchfield (5-4), scoring 13 points, while grabbing nine rebounds. And, as usual, she had plenty of help.
Fellow senior Cassie Warner scored 10 of her 18 points in the first quarter, helping the Lady Vandals get off to another blistering start.
Shelby Cearlock spent most of the first period setting up teammates – dishing out five of her seven assists – before taking over offensively in the second quarter.
The senior shooting guard pumped in 13 of her 18 points in the period, highlighted by a personal 10-2 run over a scintillating 1 minute, 13 second span that crushed any Purple Panther hopes of making it a close game.
The outburst helped the Lady Vandals take a 43-26 lead into the locker room; Cearlock is now just 62 points shy of joining Hobbie in the 1,000-point club.
As impressive as the Lady Vandals were offensively in the first half, the best was yet to come. Vandalia outscored Litchfield 27-8 in the third quarter, avoiding one of the second-half swoons that have plagued them so far this year.
"We talked at halftime about coming out and having a big third quarter," Butler. "That’s just what we did."
It was Amanda Walton’s turn to take the lead role on offense in third frame, as she scored 11 of her 17 points.
The offensive balance displayed by the Lady Vandals Monday has become a common occurrence, and Butler credits the balance to a selfless attitude by the team.
"We’ve got four people averaging double figures for the season," Butler said. "We always tell them, ‘Tonight, it may be you, another night, it might be somebody else – just as long as we get the job done.’ That’s the approach these kids take to the game."
Turnovers by the opposition – a ton of turnovers – have also become common occurrences at Lady Vandals games. Monday, as no exception, as Litchfield coughed the ball up 28 times, 14 of which were due to VCHS steals.
"Our defense gives us a lot of easy baskets," Butler said. "We were pleased with the effort again tonight."
Warner led the way in the steal department with six, part of another outstanding all-around night for the versatile center. She also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out at least four assists.
Cearlock added four steals.
Although Litchfield’s 50 points were the highest total surrendered by the Lady Vandals this season, that total is a bit deceiving, considering the Purple Panthers’ run-and-gun style. Litchfield jacked up 54 shots, connecting on just 21 of them (39 percent).
"The defense played well," Butler said. "I thought we had a little lapse there in the second quarter, but we picked it back up."
The Lady Vandals will now look forward to traveling to Pana Thursday, where they will have an opportunity to avenge their only two conference losses from a year ago.
The Lady Panthers are a much different team since the graduation of Olivia Lett – who is now starting at SIU-Carbondale – but Butler still expects a tough game.
"We know it’s going to be a big test for us," Butler said. "They’ve got a solid team. I saw them play earlier, and I know they play good defense. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on us.
"I think the big thing will be handling their pressure. If we can do that, we’ll have a goodshot."
It is believed that the Lady Vandals’ last win over Pana came during regional play way back in 1993.
"We’ve had some good ballgames over the years, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump," Butler said. "So we’re hoping it’s our turn this year. We just have to be ready."
Pana is coming off an upset loss to Staunton Monday, 48-46.
Litchfield had better luck in the junior varsity game, emerging with a 46-37 win. Amber Durbin led the Lady Vandals with nine points, while Megan Shreve had six and Haley Wollerman had five.
Vandalia 57, Neoga 35
The Lady Vandals got off to another quick start, racing out to a 22-6 lead after one quarter, and Hobbie became the eighth Lady Vandal to reach the 1,000-point plateau in the VCHS’s latest rout.
Cearlock led VCHS with 20 points, while Hobbie finished with 12.
Neoga came out on top in the JV contest, 32-15. Amy Walton led Vandalia with seven points, while Audra Donaldson, Durbin, Shreve and Hannah Coney had two apiece.