Down by eight points with 1:49 remaining in the Class 2 state championship game, Van-Far’s fans were on the edge of their seats as they knew their Indians would need to make one final run if they were going to knock off Hayti to win the second state title in school history.
As they have all season, the Indians were focused and never let the emotions of the moment distract them from their goal.
The Indians finished regulation with an 8-0 run to tie the game, sending it into overtime.
Trailing by one with :08 seconds left in their season, Van-Far’s coaches drew up a play that involved a Caden Wilburn inbound pass and a Brayden Christian screen to allow Trey Miller to get the ball in the post. It was executed with perfection as Miller had a clear path and scored the go-ahead basket with :04 seconds left. A near turnover gave Hayti just 0.6 seconds to get off a final shot. After a couple of Hayti time-outs gave Van-Far fans a glimpse of what was to come, 6’5” Dillion Minor was in the game to make the inbounding play a difficult one. After the time-out, he tipped the inbound pass and caught it, the horn sounded, and Van-Far’s players and coaches charged onto the court as Class 2 state champions after the 56-55 OT win.
“In the huddle, coach is sitting there saying you’re the biggest bull in the yard, Brayden’s going to screen for you, there’s nobody going to stop you,” Miller said. “I got the ball, I did a little spin, I was open and nobody was there. I just took it up and scored.”
It gave Van-Far it’s best record in school history at 24-8, it’s second state basketball title, and the district’s third consecutive sports season with a state title.
“It’s just the way these kids are,” said Van-Far head coach Pat Connaway in the media interview room after his team won the title. “…The resilience, the perseverance, and the will to win. They never quit.”
Connaway added that his Indians are a team filled with 15 “outstanding young men” and one great coach in assistant Brett Reading, who he called his sidekick who is the wizard with a pen.
“Our starting group, we’ve got five kids that can lead us in double figures on a given night and nobody cares who scores and who does what. This team just worries about w’s…Having three losses all year and never cracking the state ranking, they kind of put a chip on their shoulder. They weren’t’ given any love so to speak and they wanted to come out and earn it and now I think now we’ll probably be ranked No. 1 in the state in the latest polls. I’m just proud of them and everything they do.”
“It’s great,” said senior Colten Jensen on winning the title. “It’s the best feeling in my life. It’s the best way to go out.”
His senior teammate Lathyn McMorris was not only happy to win a title, he’s excited for what is next for him.
“I’m going to get a fish tank,” McMorris said as his senior teammates Colten Jensen, Brayden Christian, and Josh Hodde enjoyed his response. McMorris said he’s thinking of getting some glow fish.
The four spirited seniors and many of the other players on the team remember when they were younger and watched the 2004 squad win the state crown behind the leadership of current professional basketball player Mike Smith.
“They have left the dream alive for all the young kids at Van-Far playing in the elementary right now,” Connaway noted. “They just saw it can happen.”
A large contingency of Van-Far fans wearing black and gold cheered on their team in at state.
Many were also back in the district listening to the game on the radio or watching it on the internet.
“They’ve been great all year,” Connaway said about the fans. “And each step of the way, it’s gotten bigger and bigger. The boys feed off the crowd and you can’t give them enough credit for all of the support they’ve given us.”
Early on in the game, Hayti’s fan base was pumped as their quick start gave them hopes they would be leaving Springfield with the state crown.
After Miller opened the game with the first basket, Hayti made an 8-0 run. They added a 7-0 run to take a 10-point lead.
In need of some momentum, McMorris and Caden Wilburn each made a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Treyson Culwell came off the bench a hit a big 3-pointer to cut the lead to three as Van-Far had a 7-0 run of their own in the quarter though Hayti took a 27-20 edge into halftime.
In the fourth quarter, McMorris made two big 3-pointers.
With 1:49 left, Hodde made a jump shot to start Van-Far’s charge. After a Hayti missed free throw with 1:30 left, Miller scored and was followed :13 seconds later with Christian’s basket, cutting Hayti’s lead to just two points at the 1:01 mark.
Christian then picked up a steal with :49 seconds left on the clock, setting up Miller’s game-tying basket. Hayti set themselves up for a final shot but missed with :02 left, sending the game into overtime. In overtime, Verlyn Johnson scored a big basket off the bench to tie the game at 52-52. Hayti hit a 3-pointer early to go up three before McMorris’ jumper with :54 seconds left cut the lead to one.
Hayti then missed a free throw shot with :14 seconds remaining when Hodde grabbed the rebound and timeout was called seconds later to set up the winning shot.
Van-Far outscored Hayti 20-11 in the fourth quarter.
The game featured multiple runs. Hayti had an 8-0, 7-0, and 6-0 run while Van-Far made a 7-0 run before halftime and an 8-0 run to end regulation.
Miller led Van-Far with 16 points, five rebounds, two steals, one block, and one assist while McMorris added 15 points, six rebounds, and one steal.
Hodde had seven points, five rebounds, two assists, and one steal; Caden Wilburn had seven points and 11 rebounds; Verlyn Johnson scored six points, nine rebounds, and four blocks; Treyson Culwell added three points; and Christian had two points, one steal, and one assist.
Rallying to win state semifinals game over Mid-Buchanan
One night earlier, the Indians used a 16-6 third quarter to take control of the game before holding on late to knock off the No. 2 team in the state in the Dragons from Mid-Buchanan.
In the first quarter, Caden Wilburn had four points while Hodde added a 3-point play and four total points to keep Van-Far close trailing 13-11.
In the second quarter, Mid-Buchanan opened up a five point lead behind a 7-0 run.
Fortunately for the Indians, they stayed close behind their perimeter shooting. Both Caden Wilburn and McMorris made two 3-pointers and Christian added one to keep Van-Far within four points at halftime.
Van-Far started a run before the end of the second quarter and extended it to 7-0 to tie the game in the third.
This led to the Indians outscoring the Dragons 16-6 in the third quarter to go up six behind McMorris’ seven of his game-high 21 points.
Van-Far led by nine points with 3:14 remaining but free throw struggles gave the Dragons a fighting chance. The Indians made just 7-of-13 free throws in the fourth and just 10-of-20 in the game.
Mid-Buchanan did hit a late 3-pointer to cut the lead to 57-55 with 14.3 seconds remaining.
McMorris then hit one free throw to keep lead at 58-55 with 13.6 left on the clock.
Two Dragons’ timeouts were followed by a missed Dragons’ 3-pointer and a rebound at the :06 second mark.
One final missed 3-pointer at the buzzer missed the mark and gave the Indians a 58-55 win to advance into the state finals.
McMorris led the Indians with 21 points, four rebounds, four steals, and two assists. Caden Wilburn tallied 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, and one steal; Hodde had 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and two steals; Christian scored eight points, four rebounds, and one assist; Miller had six points, six rebounds, and one steal; while Verlyn Johnson had one rebound.
Van-Far did make 8-of-9 3-point shots in the win.
“(We were a) little tight in first half, a little nervous,” Connaway said. “In the locker room, we just talked about being loose…Give all the credit to the boys, they played their hearts out.”
Parade and Team Recognition Scheduled for Thursday, March 15
A parade will be held at 4:30 p.m on Thursday, March 15. It will line up at South School and head down Main St.
Everyone is then invited to the Van-Far Jr./Sr. High School gym after the parade for recognition of the team’s success.