Vermilion advances to finals

BOWLING GREEN It was eerily similar to last season's Division II regional semifinal game at Bowling
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

BOWLING GREEN

It was eerily similar to last season's Division II regional semifinal game at Bowling Green's Anderson Arena.

Vermilion led by seven with 3:25 remaining in the game Thursday night.

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Last season, the Sailors had a similar lead with similar time left, but eventually lost to Lexington by three points.

Thursday against Galion, the Tigers cut it to three, but Vermilion finished the job with clutch free throw shooting and solid defense to walk away with a 78-72 victory.

"I think that got in their heads a little bit," Vermilion coach Kurt Habermehl said. "You're up seven with three to go, and these kids remembered what happened here last year. To their credit, Timmy Clark and Kyle Herchler made some big free throws down the stretch and kept us at a comfortable area."-

What really helped the Sailors (17-7) punch their ticket to Saturday's regional championship game was their 3-point shooting.

Vermilion was an astounding 68.8 percent from beyond the arc, burying 11 of 16 3-pointers. Kyle Herchler was 5 of 6 from 3-point range, en route to a team-high 19 points, while Nick Farley buried 3 of 4 treys off the bench, finishing with 12 points.

"I think a lot of it was how we started the basketball game," Habermehl said. "We started going inside a lot early on, and that kind of opened things up on the outside.

"We had a lot guys step up and make some big shots. Kyle Herchler had some big ones, Mike Virgin comes off the bench and hits two huge 3s, which were gigantic for us. It wasn't just one person, it was everyone."

The only 3-pointer Herchler missed was a half-court try before the first-half buzzer that clanged off the rim. Every other shot he took from the beyond the arc hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

"I felt like I was shooting into an ocean at times," said Herchler, one of 10 seniors on the Sailors. "You start feeling that rhythm, and suddenly you feel like you can't miss out there."

Farley, who missed a chunk of the season with mono, seconded those thoughts.

"Once you gain that confidence in yourself, you become more aggressive," he said. "And that confidence spread to all of us. We felt that if we had a good look from 3-point range, we were going to make it. And the more we made, the more confident we became."

Regardless of how many triples the Sailors made, they never seemed to put away Galion until the final minute of the game.

There were 12 lead changes in the game, but 10 of them occurred in the first half. Despite Vermilion's control of the second half, it never was totally comfortable.

In fact, that seven-point lead with 3:25 remaining was the Sailors' largest lead of the game. But Galion (16-9) never gave up. Thirty seconds later, starter Justin Turner (11 points) fouled out, giving Galion a bit of momentum.

A big reason was the play of senior point guard Justen Little. The 5-foot-10 sparkplug, en route to a game-high 23 points, stepped up for the Tigers when they needed someone down the stretch.

Little converted 3 of 4 free throws to cut Vermilion's lead to 66-62 with 3:00 remaining. After a clutch triple from Farley pushed the lead back out to seven, senior Nick Stevens answered right back with two treys of his own. The latter made it a 3-point game, 71-68, with 1:31 left.

After that, it became a battle of free throws. Vermilion made 7 of 9 from the charity stripe during those last 30 seconds, however Little was 4 of 4 of his own, keeping the score close.

It wasn't until Tim Clark (18 points), the hero of the triple overtime district championship win Saturday over Holy Name, sank a free throw with 12.1 seconds left to give Vermilion a 76-72 lead that the Sailor faithful could breath easier.

Following a missed 3-pointer and a missed putback collared by Clark with just two seconds remaining, the Sailors could start celebrating.

Unlike Saturday's game, they didn't start celebrating too early.

"I feel for Galion," Habermehl said. "They played a heck of a ballgame. You saw two teams out there that played their hearts out and left it all out on the floor and shot the heck out of the ball."

Both teams had four players each in double-figures. But 18 points off the bench for Vermilion, compared to just five by the Tigers, may have been another factor in the win.

"I told these kids at the start of the year that we were shooting for a district championship, and they believed me," Galion coach Tim Birie said. "A lot of people in the community thought I was crazy, but the kids never did.

"I've been coaching a lot of years, and told this group of kids that I was never prouder of a group than I was of them. They never got into trouble off the court, they played the game with class and they did something that hasn't been done around here in 35 years, which is make it out of districts. These seniors will be great men in life, along with being great basketball players now."

Vermilion will return to Anderson Arena, taking on Columbus St. Francis DeSales (21-3) at 3:15 p.m. Saturday for the right to play in the state semifinals.

"Last year, our goal was to make it to regionals, and I think that cost us when we got down here, Farley said. "This year, our goal is to make it to Columbus. "

"We were calmer and knew what to expect more this year, and I think that showed down the stretch. Now, we have one more game to go."