After two narrow losses in the State A Tournament to Dell Rapids and St. Thomas More, the No. 1 Vermillion Tanagers faced off against the No. 7 Winner Warriors for seventh place last Saturday.
The Tanagers cruised to a 78-49 win for the seventh-place finish to finish the season.
“We struggled scoring the first two days,” said Vermillion head coach Jay Drake. “It was nice today to go out looking like the team we have been all year.”
In the first possession of the game, Vermillion senior Jakob Dobney came out with a three from the top of the key. Dobney followed with two assists, both to senior Noah Gilbertson cutting through the lane and beyond the arc. The Tanagers were off to a 17-0 run before Winner scored with less than three minutes left in the first. Vermillion finished the quarter ahead 22-6. Along with stellar defense, the Tanagers shot 64% from the field.
Vermillion tripled Winner’s score with less than three minutes to go in the second quarter to go up 36-12. As Winner started finding their rhythm, senior Connor Saunders finished the half with a three to set the Tanagers’ lead at 23. Vermillion led 41-18 over Winner at the half.
Vermillion shot 50% from the field in the first half. The Warriors improved to 27% throughout the second quarter. Dobney led the Tanagers with 11 points, five assists and three steals. For Winner, freshman Aiden Barfuss tallied six points, two rebounds and one assist.
In the third quarter, Dobney went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in less than a 2-minute window, firing up those wearing red. Vermillion built the margin to 27 by the end of the third, ahead 62-35.
The Tanagers started the fourth with an and-1 play by senior Dillon Gestring. With nearly six minutes remaining in the careers of five Tanagers, Coach Drake put them on the court for a final chance to play together. After calling Dobney, Gestring, Gilbertson, Saunders and Cael Mockler off the court for a standing ovation, the Tanagers finished the game to take home seventh-place after the 78-49 win over Winner.
Vermillion shot 49% from the field, and Winner was 32% on the day.
Dobney finished with 20 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. He shot 50% from beyond the arc. Dobney averaged 20.1 points per game throughout the season.
Gestring had 18 points—shooting 7-for-9 from the field— along with six rebounds, two steals and one block. Gilbertson recorded 13 points, eight rebounds and one assist.
Saunders and junior Jake Jensen each had 10 points for Vermillion. Saunders also had two assists and one rebound. Jensen tallied seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
For Winner, senior Brady Fritz led the Warriors with 18 points, six rebounds, one assist and one steal. Barfuss finished with six points, two rebounds and two assists.
The Tanagers finished their record-breaking season 23-2. Dobney was selected for the all-tournament team, and Gestring received the Spirit of Su award.
Several players received Dak 12 All-Conference honors. Dobney was named first-team, Gestring was second-team, Saunders was third-team, and Gilbertson named honorable mention.
Dobney and Gestring were chosen to compete with the Class A division of the 33rd Annual 3-Class Shoot Out. The all-star basketball game is Saturday, March 27 in Salem. Class A plays the AA squad at 5:15 p.m. The winner will play Class B, and a dunk contest will take place between games.
“For this group to go through the regular season 20-0 and win our conference, it’s huge,” said coach Drake. “They battled, and they did things that probably a lot of people didn’t think could happen, especially to start the year with losing Charlie Ward to an injury.”
For the five seniors, making it to the state tournament is the best memory they will cherish.
“They are huge role models for the youth in our community,” said coach Drake. “They represented our program, their families, school and community the right way. We will miss them. They have done things the right way and have done everything we have asked as a coaching staff. We look forward to following them as they move onto their adult lives.”
These five Tanagers ended their Vermillion basketball careers on a win and had a final word for those hoping to follow in their footsteps someday.
“Hard work pays off,” said Dobney. “Our seniors right here have been working together for 7-10 years at this point. If you really have that close bond with a sport together, good things can happen.”
“Not everyone on the team has to be the most skilled player,” said Mockler. “We are just a bunch of hard workers, and if you work hard enough, you can accomplish your dreams.”
“All season, we were praising to ‘do the invisibles,’” said Gilbertson. “You can get the points—that’s what everyone is looking at—but if you really want to be a team, you have to get the steals, rebounds, assists, and do the dirty work on defense. If you start doing that at a young age, as you get older, you are going to be at the top level.”
“Cherish your teammates,” said Saunders. “Don’t take anything for granted because it goes by in the blink of an eye.”
“Set your goals high, and if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything,” said Gestring. “Try and bring everyone you care about with you too.”