BUCYRUS — After watching his team blow a big lead in a loss to Clearview in its regular-season finale, Vermilion coach Kurt Habermehl said his team had 10 days to figure things out.
In their 61-56 win over Shelby in a Division II sectional final Friday, the third-seeded Sailors looked more like the team that cruised through the first 18 games and less like the one that lost three of its last four heading into the postseason.
Mason Montgomery scored 24 points, Reese Miller added 21 and Vermilion (18-5) used its defense to take control.
The Sailors will face fourth-seeded Mansfield on Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. at Madison High School. Mansfield was a 47-42 winner over Clear Fork on Friday.
TJ Pugh (29 points) was hot early for the 10th-seeded Whippets (12-12), connecting on three straight 3-pointers in the first 1:30 to give Shelby a 9-6 lead. They built that lead to 14-8 before the Sailors turned things around with a 13-4 run.
Vermilion led 21-18 after the first quarter before a 6-2 Shelby run put the Whippets back in front by a point.
That’s when the Sailors changed things up.
Vermilion, which played most of the first quarter in a 2-3 zone, went to a trapping full-court press that forced turnovers on four straight possessions. That sparked a 9-2 run that gave Vermilion a lead it would never relinquish.
Montgomery scored 12 points in the first half and Miller added 11 as the Sailors took a 34-29 lead at the break.
Miller then scored 10 points in the third quarter as Vermilion took a 54-41 lead with under two minutes to go in the period.
“Reese carried us in the second and third quarters, I thought,” Habermehl said. “He had a huge game tonight, but he’s done that at different times this year. He’s had two or three games of 20 points, and tonight he was huge. He carried us for a long time.”
Miller also had four rebounds.
“I think a lot of it is the focus that’s on Mason and Jonah (Pfeil),” Miller said. “I know my role on the team. If they need me to step up I’ve got to deliver. Tonight it was me, I guess.”
Shelby didn’t roll over though. Vermilion led 55-46 heading into the fourth quarter before a 10-3 Whippets run cut the lead to two.
That’s when Vermilion changed things up defensively again, dropping back into its 2-3 zone for the final three minutes. Shelby didn’t score again.
“I thought two key moments in the game were in the second quarter when they went to the diamond real quick. … I think we had four or five turnovers,” Whippets coach Troy Schwemley said. “Then it was a one-possession game and they switched to that 2-3 zone.
“Befuddled is a great word to describe it. We tried to run a few things and we just didn’t quite execute them.”
Montgomery said the Sailors’ defensive stand was critical.
“It looked like they weren’t prepared for that,” he said. “That was great. There was one time in the second half where they probably held the ball and passed it around for almost two minutes. That was big. Our fans got into it and our bench got into it. That was big for us. We were trying to do anything we could to survive.”
Montgomery hit three of four free throws in the final 35 seconds to seal the win after going just 6-of-10 before that.
“I knew those last ones were big,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know what it’s been with me, I practice all the time. … Whenever I get the chance I’m practicing. I’ve definitely got to figure it out and I’ve got to get better, but I was just going one by one.
“I wanted to see one go down, then the second one would go down. Those last two were big to put the game out of reach.”
Habermehl had total confidence in Montgomery at the end.
“He’s a big-time player,” Habermehl said. “He knows when it’s crunch time. He misses a few here and there, but for the most part he’s going to knock them down if he gets the opportunity.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Vermilion 61, Shelby 56
SHELBY (56): Tanner Stephens 1-0-3, Uriah Schwemley 4-2-11, Cody Lantz 0-0-0, Grant Gossom 2-0-5, TJ Pugh 11-1-29, Jonny DeVito 1-2-4, Nick Amstutz 1-2-4. Totals 20-7-56.
VERMILION (61): Jonah Pfeil 2-1-5, Seth Hurd 3-0-7, Mason Montgomery 6-9-24, Luke Pena 1-0-2, Reese Miller 9-1-21, Zach Kovach 1-0-2, Davis McDaniels 0-0-0, Sterling Benko 0-0-0, Ryan Habermehl 0-0-0. Totals 22-11-61.
Shelby 18 11 17 10 — 56
Vermilion 21 13 21 6 — 61
Three-point goals: Shelby 9-23 (Pugh 6, Stephens, Schwemley, Gossom), Vermilion 6-18 (Montgomery 3, Miller 2, Hurd). Field goals: Shelby 20-43 (46.5 percent), Vermilion 22-46 (47.8 percent). Free throws: Shelby 7-13 (53.8 percent), Vermilion 11-17 (64.7 percent). Rebounds: Shelby 30 (Pugh 9), Vermilion 23 (Pena 7). Turnovers: Shelby 19, Vermilion 12. Total fouls: Shelby 14, Vermilion 13.