The reminders were everywhere.
They litterally surrounded the Vandalia girls basketball team Thursday night in the form of countless championship banners at Teutopolis’ J.H. Griffin Gymnasium.
The message was clear: T-Town does not lose regionals.
The evidence was undeniable. In their 31-year history, the Lady Shoes had collected 27 regional-title plaques – including 17 in a row.
In contrast, Vandalia had won just one regional during that span.
And if Lady Vandals were going to break a title drought dating back to 1993, they were going to have to do so on the home court of the state’s most successful girls program.
T-Town had history on its side, no question. But, by virtue of their 37-30 win over the Lady Shoes, the Lady Vandals showed that the present belongs to them.
"After the game, people were saying, you didn’t just win a regional – you shut down T-Town," said Lady Vandals senior guard Shelby Cearlock, who hit eight straight free-throw attempts in the final 1:20 to clinch the biggest win in Vandalia girls basketball history.
"They’ve won 17 years in a row… I don’t think a lot of us knew they’d won it that many years," Cearlock added. "That just added to our victory. We were 10 times happier when we found that out."
Lady Vandals coach Mike Butler, a veteran of 19 seasons as VCHS’s head coach, was well aware of T-Town’s tradition, which made the victory all the more emotional.
"I’m not sure if I can describe it," Butler said. "It was just a great feeling, knowing these kids have achieved this. They’ve worked hard and they’ve earned it."
Along with the victory comes something else the Lady Vandals have worked hard to earn – respect. Although they entered the game ranked fourth in the state and just one four-point loss shy of a perfect season, few believed Vandalia could knock off T-Town on its home floor.
Now, the sky appears to be the limit.
"I think anybody who thought we weren’t as good as our record, this has to prove something to them," Butler said. "To beat a team like this on their home floor, with their tradition and with as good a team as they are, is a big thing for these kids."
Cassie Warner led Vandalia with 11 points, five rebounds and four assists. Cearlock added 10 points. Amanda Walton and Kayla Houston chipped in six points apiece.
Walton gave the Lady Vandals the momentum for good with a buzzer-beating bank shot in the lane to close out the third quarter, giving VCHS a 26-23 lead.
The Lady Vandals (27-1) will move on to face Paris Monday at 6 p.m. in the Olney-East Richland Sectional.
For more details, see the Feb. 19 edition of The Leader-Union.