SHARPSVILLE, Ind. – In this most recent post-season tournament, the North Vermillion girls’ basketball team twice dodged bullets.
In their sectional semifinal with Covington, the Falcons trailed 36-35 with 50 seconds left in the game and came back to win.
The championship saw North Vermillion fall behind Clinton Central with less than three minutes to go 40-39 and then rally for a victory.
In their game against Blue River Valley on Saturday morning in the regional opener at Tri-Central, the Falcons fell behind 45-42 with 56 seconds left, but this time the bullet found them and they dropped the contest 45-44.
North Vermillion finishes the year with a 20-7 record, the second consecutive year of 20 or more wins the second straight sectional championship.
“I’m really proud of the accomplishment of these girls,” Mark Switzer, the Falcon head coach said. “A lot of people said we couldn’t do this after losing five seniors off last year’s team, but they took it as a challenge and got here.”
Switzer said his team came out in the first quarter exactly the way he wanted them to play.
Blue River Valley started in a 2-3 zone with their big player standing squarely in the lane to deny any easy lay-ups.
That did not bother the Falcons as they simply moved the ball around the perimeter until they found an open jumper, which allowed four of their five starters to score in the first period.
McKenzie Crowder got things going with a basket and after a pair of Viking free throws tied the game, Ava Martin hit a jumper and Hannah Ellis fed Rylee Dowers for a trey.
Crowder then got a steal for a lay-up for a 9-2 score and after the Vikings got their first basket of the game with 1:04 left in the quarter, Brianna West made a jumper for an 11-4 total going into the second period.
Both teams were cold from the field as that period started with Blue River Valley being the colder of the two.
North Vermillion opened with a 9-1 across the first three minutes getting a trey from Crowder off an assist from Dowers and then Dowers converted a three-point play off a runner for a 20-5 score.
The Vikings then found their outside shooting eyes – an eventual problem for the Falcons – and they made a pair of triples answered by five points from Crowder.
By the halftime break, North Vermillion led 27-13 and they increased it as the third quarter started by adding a free throw.
Down 15 with two minutes gone in the half, Blue River Valley began to creep closer by doing two things.
First, they changed their defense away from the first-half zone and into a press in the hope of creating turnovers.
They also began to go inside to their post and then kick out to an open three-point shooter.
“What are you going to do,” Switzer asked rhetorically. “When they were cold from the outside, we could double the big girl, but once they started to hit we had to come out on them and that left her open inside.”
In the next four minutes, Blue River Valley went on a 6-1 run to pull within eleven.
North Vermillion got baskets from Martin and Crowder to make it 15 points, but the Vikings scored the final seven points of the period to trail 34-26 going into the fourth quarter.
Crowder made a basket and a free throw around a Viking trey to open the final period, but then Blue River Valley scored eight points against a lone pair of free throws by Dowers to trail 39-37.
Crowder then fed Dowers for a trey that pushed the margin to five with 3:07 to go, but the Falcons would not score again for over two minutes, by which time they trailed 45-44 after Martin ended the drought.
In the final 41 seconds, the Vikings were 0-4 from the line including the front ends of two one-and-ones.
North Vermillion rebounded the last of those misses with 14 seconds left, drove down the court then missed a lay-up and two putbacks to fall by that 45-44 score.
“You’d think with all the close games we’ve played this year, we’d be comfortable in one like this,” Switzer said, “but I think we got caught up in the moment and couldn’t do it.”
Despite losing West, Ellis and Dowers to graduation, Switzer closed by saying, “I certainly hope to be back here again next year.”