After a heartbreaking first round against Dell Rapids, the 1-seed Vermillion Tanagers played No. 5 St. Thomas More Cavaliers in the State A Tournament last Friday.
“I thought our guys did a great job bouncing back today,” said Vermillion head coach Jay Drake. “You never know in a state tournament with the hangover from yesterday and the way the game ended yesterday.”
The Tanagers fell in their second game of the tournament after another close game 32-35.
“It’s tough—it’s very tough,” said Vermillion senior Connor Saunders about the state tournament. “They’re all good teams here, so you can’t take a break anytime.”
It was a slow start with a tied game at two halfway through the first quarter. Vermillion ended the first ahead 8-5. Until a bucket from STM senior Ryan Wojcik in the final minute, the Cavaliers’ three points came from free throws.
The Tanagers maintained a 5-point lead halfway through the second quarter 12-7. Vermillion built the lead to 10 at the half, up 20-10. The Tanagers shot 29% from the field in the first half, and the Cavaliers shot 14%. Vermillion senior Jakob Dobney led in stats with eight points and five rebounds.
“We are struggling offensively,” said coach Drake. “With that said, to hold them to 10 points in the first half and go into halftime shooting 29% and still lead by 10, you figure at some point that we would knock down some shots and get some flow offensively. It never came.”
Midway through the third quarter, the Cavaliers brought the game within five while holding the Tanagers to 20. Saunders finished the first basket for Vermillion in the second half with two minutes remaining in the third. The Cavaliers pulled ahead going into the final quarter as Vermillion trailed 22-23.
Dobney scored Vermillion’s first two buckets of the fourth with nearly four minutes left in the game. The Tanagers trailed 26-29 with less than four to go and got it within one with one minute ticking down. Opportunities were missed on both ends, leading STM to the line in the bonus. The opponents sunk two free throws, and Vermillion was down 32-35. The Tanagers needed a buzzer-beater to tie the game with 4.3 seconds left, but the clock hit zero. Vermillion fell to the Cavaliers 32-35.
“We have had two games against two very good teams that have come right down to the wire,” said coach Drake. “The other teams made a couple plays down the stretch that we didn’t make.”
The Tanagers shot 27% from the field and did not sink a 3-pointer of the 10 attempts. STM improved to 29% by the end of the game.
Dobney recorded a double-double—13 points and 12 rebounds—with two steals. Saunders played all 32 minutes and had 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal.
For the Cavaliers, Wojcik finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and one assist. Junior Cade Kandolin tallied 11 points, five rebounds, two steals and one block.
“We obviously haven’t been ourselves these past few days,” said Saunders. “We need to come out and show everyone who we really are.”
The Tanagers prepared for their third and final game of the state tournament against Winner.
“We are going to have to bring some offense,” said Saunders. Our defense has been there both games, but we haven’t been able to score offensively.”
Vermillion competed for a seventh-place finish with five seniors playing their final game as a Tanager—Dobney, Saunders, Noah Gilbertson, Dillon Gestring and Cael Mockler.
“These five seniors have done a lot for us the last three years,” said coach Drake. “They have done everything we can ask, and now it’s important to try and finish off on a win. That’s the nice thing about the state tournament—four teams are going to go home on the final day with at least a win. We get that opportunity tomorrow. Talk about a life lesson, we can either hang our head and feel sorry for ourselves—nobody else is going to feel sorry for us—but if we feel sorry for ourselves, we are going to walk away probably in eighth place, or we are going to battle back and try to win one.”