Improving to 10-0 is going to get a team noticed, no matter who they beat to get there.
Doing so against Breese Central – and doing so by 11 points – will get a team something much more than recognition, however.
Beating a program the caliber of the Lady Cougars equals respect.
That’s exactly what the Vandalia girls basketball team earned Monday night at VCHS, as the Lady Vandals rode their defensive pressure to a 49-38 victory.
"It was a big win for us," said Vandalia coach Mike Butler of what is believed to be the Lady Vandals’ first win over Breese Central in 15 years.
The signature win against an elite program is something Butler’s team has been striving for since last year.
"Last year, we got close to (beating) Central," Butler said. "We got close to beating Pana. We got close to beating T-Town. Now it’s time to step up and win some of those games.
"We talked about that before the game. Central is a team a lot of people respect, and they’ve earned that over the years. To get a win against them is a big plus for our program."
The keys to the Lady Vandals’ latest victory were familiar ones: another quick start – and unrelenting defense.
VCHS parlayed 11 Breese Central first-quarter turnovers into a 15-9 lead after the opening eight minutes. The Lady Vandals quickly extended their lead to double digits in the second quarter, and the Lady Cougars wound up with a highly uncharacteristic 28 giveaways.
"That’s been our game all year long," said Butler of forcing turnovers. "It was maybe more (than expected) against a quality team like that. But our kids played hard, and that’s a big part of our game."
Another key to VCHS’s impressive victory was its ability to counter a pair of Central attempts to get back in the game.
The first came late in the second quarter, as the Lady Cougars trimmed a big VCHS lead to six, 21-15, with a 6-0 spurt.
Laura Hobbie countered with a jumper, however, and Amanda Walton banked in a 3-pointer to quickly stretch Vandalia’s lead back out to 11.
The Lady Vandals started the second half as well as they did the first, extending a 26-19 halftime advantage to 36-21 with a 10-2 run.
Central got back in the game with eight unanswered points, cutting VCHS’s lead to 36-31, but Vandalia never panicked, responding with an 8-0 run of its own to all but seal the win.
"I think that’s (the by-product) of five seniors on the floor," Butler said. "They’ve played a lot of varsity minutes and have got some maturity. They didn’t crack when the pressure was on. That’s what good teams have to do."
Senior Cassie Warner keyed the first run, scoring the first eight points of the second half on a pair of 3-pointers and a shot in the lane. And she was also right in the middle of the second run, going on to score 11 of her 15 points in the final 16 minutes.
Warner added six rebounds and three steals in another fine all-around game.
"Cas has just done a great job all year for us," Butler said. "I think she’s deceptively quick. I don’t think people realize how quick she is for a tall, lanky girl. She gets five, six steals a game, on average, and goes hard to the basket. She’s been a big plus for this team."
Walton also had another big scoring night, finishing with a team-high 16 points, but her work with Shelby Cearlock at the front end of VCHS’s full-court press may have been just as important for the Lady Vandals.
The win was all the more impressive considering Hobbie and Shelby Cearlock – who’ve combined for nearly 2,000 points in their career – combined for just 11 points, as the Lady Vandals once again showed off their balance.
"Give them credit," Central coach Nathan Rueter said. "They definitely looked like the more- prepared, better team tonight. The score certainly indicated that.
"They’re a good team. They’re not undefeated for no reason."
Central came out ahead in the junior varsity game, however, cruising to a 43-34 win.
Haley Wollerman and Audra Donaldson scored 11 points apiece for the Lady Vandals, while Megan Shreve and Hannah Coney had four apiece.
The varsity Lady Vandals will now focus on defending their Mattoon Christmas Tournament title. Pairings are listed on page eight of today’s sports section.
Vandalia 59, Altamont 21
The Lady Vandals used another dominating first quarter to bury an opponent early.
VCHS raced out to a 19-0 lead after one quarter against the Lady Indians – the seventh lead of 12 or more points the Lady Vandals have enjoyed after the first quarter this season. Vandalia has led by eight points after one quarter two other times. All told, the Lady Vandals have outscored the opposition 173-35 in the first quarter through their first nine games.
Warner’s 12 points led a balanced VCHS attack in the Lady Vandals’ latest mismatch. Hobbie added 10, while Cearlock and Amanda Walton had nine apiece.
The Lady Vandals fell in the JV contest, 45-17.
Donaldson led VCHS with six points, while Meresha Mitchell had five.