Vandals survive scare
St. Elmo-Brownstown rally falls short, Vandalia wins championship
ST. ELMO – For the first three quarters of Wednesday night's championship game of the St. Elmo Holiday Tournament the Vandalia Vandals could do no wrong.

They dominated every category and were in complete control in a contest that wasn't one.

Coach Brian Buscher saw his club take an early 10-2 lead and expanded the advantage to the point that it was a forgone conclusion that, in their first appearance in this event, they were going to take home the top hardware with an easy title game triumph.

Vandalia led 61-41 in the first minute of the final quarter as they were primed to celebrate.

If this had been a World Series Game Seven, the champagne would have been on ice and the lockers would have been covered with plastic in anticipation.

But something strange happened at this point of the game.

Everything that was working in the first 25 minutes of the game suddenly stopped working for Vandalia.

In an almost 'Twilight Zone-type' collapse, the Vandals could do nothing right.

The team committed seven fourth quarter turnovers and started missing shots that had found the mark previously.

The St. Elmo-Brownstown Eagles, just as suddenly as Vandalia played poorly, began to do everything right.

Behind 39-points from senior Landon Feezel (16 in the fourth quarter) and some long-range shooting by junior guard Isaac Maxey and senior Dylan Brooks, the Eagles put together a miraculous comeback.

With a Vandalia score with 6:05 remaining, Coach Greg Feezel's Eagles still trailed 64-47.

The hosts then went on an incredible 17-0 run to tie the game.

Bringing the crowd back into the game and turning up the pressure, St. Elmo-Brownstown did all of this in less than five minutes on the play clock.

It was all set up for a comeback for the ages, in a Hollywood type script that no one would have believed could happen.

However, the ending didn't match the climactic buildup.

Vandalia managed to right the ship just in time to avoid the massive iceberg, swerving to avoid the accident waiting to happen.

The Vandals stole the title right out of the Eagles hands in the final seconds, getting a pair of key baskets and a couple of key rebounds to finally secure a 68-67 win.

If this was a learning situation for Vandalia, it was some serious tough love as this could have been an emotional disaster for a club that had put together a very good start to the season.

Vandalia, after the dust had settled on the title game, walked away with the one-point victory and an 8-2 overall record for Coach Buscher.

“First of all hats off to St. Elmo-Brownstown, they played hard. But we kept shooting the ball and playing at the same pace that we were playing and when it comes time to win a game and we haven't hit a shot or two, we needed to have a good possession and get ourselves back on a roll,” said Coach Buscher. “Basically that is how you blow a 20-point lead.”

Despite this collapse, the Vandals picked up their first tournament championship in this event and stopped the host's string of three consecutive tournament titles on their own floor.

The Vandals were led by all-tournament selection Marcus Zimmerman with 22-points.

This 5-foot-11 guard netted 18 of the points in the first three quarters in leading his team to what seemed to be an insurmountable lead.

Nathan Casey, a 6-foot-3 junior forward, added 16-points to the totals while 6-foot-1 senior Richie Well added 10-points while padding his career totals in points as the four-year varsity performer went over 1,000-points earlier this past week.

The tournament title was going to be a crowning achievement for this group, 'icing on the cake' if you will.

But they nearly ended up with 'pie on their face'.

The St. Elmo-Brownstown rally was sparked by Maxey, who hit a couple of key baskets just before the 17-0 run.

He hit a shot on a drive to the goal and followed that up with a cut to the bucket for a lay in that got the crowds' attention.

Then Feezel went on a 'dream-type' personal run which was a 'nightmare' for the Vandals.

The 6-foot-4 forward, who is also a four-year varsity player, scored the game's next 14-points from all over the floor.

He hit a pair of free throws, delivered a conventional three-point play, hit a mid-range shot in traffic and canned a 3-point bomb.

Feezel then hit another shot in the paint and a few moments later nailed yet another 3-point bomb from the left wing.

This bucket closed the deficit to just 64-61 with 2:02 remaining.

As they had done in throughout the fourth quarter up to this point, Vandalia made another mistake on the offensive end.

Instead of being able to hold onto the ball and the lead, the Vandals missed another shot attempt.

This set the stage for Maxey, who delivered another 3-pointer.

When his shot found the bottom of the net with 1:34 left, the game was tied at 64-all.

“All I told them between the third and fourth quarters was 'you have to go out and play extremely hard' and they did,” said Coach Feezel. “It wasn't anything special.”

Unfortunately for the hosts and their loyal followers, the Cinderella story didn't have a happy ending.

Vandalia managed to stop the bleeding long enough to get the championship.

Well grabbed a rebound on his own missed lay in to get his team back the lead.

On the next trip down the floor, the Eagles got to the foul line as senior Klayton Kroll was fouled by Vandalia senior Kelly Jones on a rebound attempt and had two shots to get his Eagles back even.

But he missed both free throws and Casey grabbed the rebound.

Another offensive rebound, this time by 6-foot-4 senior Dakota Graham pushed the lead to 68-64 as the Vandalia faithful could finally breath again with :47 left.

Brooks, who netted just five-points on the night for St. Elmo-Brownstown, hit a desperation 3-pointer from the left corner to cut the Vandalia lead to 68-67.

A timeout by the hosts at :01.9 set the stage for defensive pressure to try and get the ball back.

But Vandalia managed to get the ball inbounds as the Eagles steal attempt went out-of-bounds with just :00.1 left at mid-court.

Following a Vandals timeout, Well got the ball inbounds to sophomore teammate Blake Morrison as the final horn went off, much to the relief of Coach Buscher and his now championship club.

“I wasn't going to call a timeout, I wanted them (my team) to go through it. I wanted them to understand what the heck happens. We lost our focus,” said Coach Buscher, talking about the St. Elmo-Brownstown run. “Some were just bad shots and the turnovers didn't help. We just lost our composure. They have to go through that.”

In what turned out to be a wild finish, Vandalia picked up its first championship in boy's varsity basketball since winning the Du Quoin Tip-Off in 2011.

None of this excitement and eventual drama needed to come to pass.

The Vandals domination in the first three quarters of action was thorough.

In every facet, every category and each column on any possible ledger, Vandalia was the victor.

Leading from the outset, Coach Buscher's club was poised to cruise to an impressive title game win.

Vandalia got a pair of early 3-pointers from Casey and junior Garett McNary along with two scores in succession by Zimmerman and Morrison for a 15-5 spread.

The only bright spot for St. Elmo-Brownstown in the first half was Feezel, as he was the only one who got going offensively.

He scored all 10 of the Eagles first quarter points as they trailed 20-10 at the end of one.

In fact of the 26-points SEB had in the first half, Feezel had 19 of them.

Junior guard Lewis Brown added five-points in the second quarter and Brooks hit for one score in the frame.

Zimmerman scored seven of his points in the second quarter with a pair of baskets and 3-of-5 free throws.

The junior guard shoots his free throws underhanded in a Rick Barry style of shooting.

Barry was an NBA all-star and Hall of Fame member from the 1960's and 1970's who was one of the first to develop this two-handed style of shooting from the foul line.

Zimmerman's steal and fast break basket closed the half at 39-26 Vandals.

Vandalia answered every potential offensive run by the Eagles in the third quarter and were all set to hoist the championship game plaque after taking an 18-point lead heading to the fourth.

In fact the lead had reached 22-points before a pair of late scores in the third by Brown and Kroll cut into the spread.

Everything was clicking for the visitors heading to the last eight minutes.

But the 'walk in the park' turned into a 'cliffhanger' for Vandalia, who eventually escaped the gym with the title in tow.

The Vandals numbers were very good until the last quarter but overall still good enough for a win.

Coach Buscher saw hit squad hit 26-of-57 overall from the floor, 5-of-17 from the arc.

His team out-rebounded the hosts 34-22 while committing 15-turnovers, seven in the final minutes.

Coach Feezel's team was 28-of-60 overall, 8-of-24 from long-range.

The Eagles dug themselves a hole in the first half with 10 of their 14-turnovers in the first two quarters.

“We just had a flat spot coming out and you can't do that against teams like Vandalia,” said Coach Feezel. “I told Coach Beccue that somewhere tonight we are going to come to play but I didn't know when.”

Vandalia (8-2) heads back for a game on Thursday night against Greenville at home, their third game in as many nights caused by the postponement of the championship game from Saturday's inclement weather.

The Eagles (7-3) host North Clay in NTC action Thursday night as well.

“At the end of the third quarter we looked dead out there, but then in the fourth quarter we came out and played the way we should,” said Coach Feezel. “That's the way we always play but we didn't do it tonight. We were flat right off. I felt like eventually we were going to come around, I just didn't know if it was going to be tonight or tomorrow night.”

St. Elmo-Brownstown
Vandalia (68) – Ruckman 0 0 0-0 0, Zimmerman 8 1 3-5 22, Casey 3 3 1-2 16, Well 5 0 0-0 10, Morrison 1 0 1-2 3, Jones 1 0 2-4 4, McNary 0 1 4-5 7, Graham 3 0 0-0 6.
2FG-21, 3FG-5, FT-11-18, PF-15.

St. Elmo-Brownstown (67) – Brown 2 1 0-0 7, Maxey 3 2 0-0 12, Kroll 2 0 0-2 4, Brooks 1 1 0-0 5, Philpot 0 0 0-0 0, Feezel 12 4 3-3 39.
2FG-20, 3FG-8, FT-3-5, PF-14.

Fouled Out – Jones - Vandalia.
Technical Fouls – None.

The Pirates took home third place honors at the tournament with a victory over the Bobcats.

Coach Justin Roedl saw his team get a game-best 32-points from junior forward Tyson McGee and 17-points from sophomore Zach Wolke in the triumph, a contest that was tied at 31-all in the second quarter.

Cumberland (7-3) also got 11-points frfom senior Mike Wolke in the win.

McGee scored his points the old fashioned way by getting to basket on various drives and short range shots, with 26-points coming in the first half.

The Pirates outscored the Bobcats 22-13 in the third quarter to take a commanding 59-46 lead to the final quarter.

For Cowden-Herrick-Beecher City and head coach Marc Bain, they gave up too many easy baskets in a game in which they made several rallies in the first half only to see Cumberland eventually pull away.

Aaron Nohren, 6-foot-4 senior, netted a team-high 25-points for the 3-4 club while teammate Konner Blakerby added 18 while sophomore Mason Stewart contributed nine-points.

Conner Grove, a senior guard, chipped in six-points as they were the only four Bobcats who inked the book on Wednesday night.

Third Place
Cowden-Herrick-Beecher City (58) – Grove 0 2 0-0 6, Barnes 0 0 0-0 0, Phillips 0 0 0-0 0, Blackerby 8 0 2-2 18, Stewart 3 0 3-4 9, Duckwitz 0 0 0-0 0, M. Nohren 0 0 0-0 0, A. Nohren 7 1 8-11 25, Buzzard 0 0 0-0 0, Krichhofer 0 0 0-0 0, Miller 0 0 0-2 0.
2FG-18, 3FG-3, FT-13-19, PF-14.

Cumberland (71) – Butler 0 1 0-0 3, Donsbach 1 0 0-2 2, Willenborg 1 0 0-0 2, Magee 14 0 4-5 32, Z. Wolke 6 1 2-2 17, Hatfill 2 0 0-0 4, M. Wolke 4 0 3-7 11.
2FG-28, 3FG-2, FT-9-16, PF-14.

Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.
The all-tournament team consisted of Landon Feezel (MVP) and Klayten Kroll of St. Elmo-Brownstown; Richie Well, Nathan Casey and Marcus Zimmerman of Vandalia; Tyson McGee and Zach Wolke of Cumberland; Aaron Nohren of CH-BC; Courtlyn Latham of Mulberry Grove and Trent Geiler of South Central.