When the Indians were down 15 points towards the end of the third quarter against Milan in the state quarterfinals, it started to feel as if Van-Far’s fantastic season was going to soon come to a disappointing end.
After all, the team wasn’t receiving the benefit of foul calls in the paint and the outside shots were not falling.
Then methodically the Indians’ never give up attitude took over with the help of a large fan base that made up a large portion of the Moberly Area Community College gymnasium.
Brayden Christian nailed a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and Lathyn McMorris’ 3-point play cut the gap to just seven points.
With 1:23 remaining in regulation, McMorris converted another 3-point play to cut the gap to two points.
After Van-Far forced a steal on an in-bound pass, Josh Hodde scored on the turnover to tie the game just :13 seconds later.
Milan turned the ball over with :36.3 seconds left to set up the Indians’ offense, who dribbled off most of the clock before a last-second shot fell way short.
In overtime, Milan turned the ball over twice in the final :16 seconds.
Meanwhile, Trey Miller hit two free throws and Caden Wilburn sealed the win with two more with 6.4 seconds left on the clock for a 53-49 come-from-behind victory.
“I don’t have no words to describe it,” said senior Brayden Christian after the win.
“There’s no quit in them,” said Van-Far head coach Pat Connaway. “…We just kept telling them to keep fighting…I can’t say enough about their desire.”
Connaway said 98% of his team’s victory can be credited to assistant coach Brett Reading and the large sea of fans wearing black and gold at the game.
“(Brett) just makes sure they were ready; he’s so detailed oriented,” Connaway noted. “…It was just great to see the sea of black and gold. They willed our guys to a win. It’s a great day to be an Indian.”
At the beginning of the game, Milan opened with a 3-pointer when the Indians responded with an 8-0 run.
Unfortunately, the Indians stayed aggressive in the paint offensively but didn’t get many fouls called.
Milan’s body contact defensively, with no whistles being blown, led them to an astounding seven first-half blocks.
They led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter and had a 6-0 run in the second to take a 26-20 halftime edge.
Both Verlyn Johnson and Hodde nearly converted 3-point plays for key baskets in the quarter.
Van-Far’s offense made just 8-of-33 shots from the field in the half.
Hodde said he knew the team slowly went away from attacking the rim and attempted to hit some shots on the outside.
“We knew we had to start attacking…,” he said as the Indians made their charge in the second half.
Foul trouble was a concern for Van-Far. McMorris picked up his third with three minutes left before halftime.
Miller picked up his fourth with :20.7 seconds left in the third.
Meanwhile, Milan had opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run and at one point took a 15-point lead before the Indians cut the gap to 10 points.
Van-Far was down 10 when McMorris picked up his fourth foul with 5:32 left in the game. “I couldn’t be too on the ball,” McMorris said as he was in foul trouble. “I was just trying to cause turnovers the best way I could without fouling out.”
The Indians then climbed back into the game, eventually holding on for the overtime win. Milan made just 1-of-7 shots from the field in the fourth quarter and only made one field goal in the fourth and fifth quarters combined. Van-Far’s defense forced 19 turnovers.
McMorris led Van-Far with 14 points, five rebounds, two blocks, three steals, and one assist while Hodde tallied 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block. Miller added eight points, eight rebounds, one steal, and one assist; Christian scored eight points and nine rebounds; Caden Wilburn had five points, four assists, and three rebounds; Verlyn Johnson scored two points, three rebounds, and one steal; Colten Jensen added two points and one rebound; and Colin Wilburn had two rebounds.
Milan’s defense did finish with 10 blocks.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun in Springfield,” Jensen said after the big win.
The Indians will take on Mid-Buchanan (26-4), a school south of St. Joseph, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8 at Missouri State University. A semifinal win puts them in the championship game against either Hayti (22-5), from the boot heel, or Purdy (24-6), from the Cassville and Joplin area, in the championship game at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 9. A loss has them battle for third at 12:50 p.m.
Beating Elsberry in
In playing an Elsberry team that did give Van-Far one of its only three losses of the season, they struggled early in the third match-up of the two teams in Hannibal on February 28. Six first quarter turnovers kept the game close early. Fortunately, the Indians made four 3-pointers and led by one heading into the second. As Elsberry took the lead twice early in the second, the Indians overcame some poor passing with an 11-0 run before halftime for a 33-19 lead. They extended the run to 15-0 to start the third quarter and never looked back in the 61-39 win.
Van-Far made 11-of-12 free throws in the fourth and 18-of-20 in the game to seal the win as the Indians overcame a 19 turnover performance. Elsberry turned the ball over 16 times and made just 6-of-15 free throws in the loss. Caden Wilburn led with 22 points, three rebounds, three assists, and two steals while McMorris tallied 18 points, one rebound, one assist, one block, and one steal. Hodde had 11 points, four assists, three steals, and one rebound; Miller tallied six points, seven rebounds, and one block; Christian added four points, seven rebounds, and two assists; Johnson had two rebounds and one block; Colin Wilburn had one rebound and one steal; Treyson Culwell had one rebound; and Riley Culwell had one steal.