MADISON TWP. — In the fourth quarter Vermilion finally found some breathing room.
The Sailors used a big scoring run to break open a close game and advance to the Division II Mansfield district final with a 59-51 win over Mansfield at Madison Middle School.
With 6:33 left in the game Wednesday, Tygers senior De’Zion Taylor’s runner in the lane gave his team a 47-45 lead. The Sailors (20-5) responded with a 12-2 run over the next 5:55 to take control.
Senior guard Jonah Pfeil scored six of his game-high 20 points during the spurt, helping lift Vermilion one step further than it advanced last season.
“This feels great,” Pfeil said. “We lost at this time last year, and the way this team played tonight and the way we played together to pull this win off … it feels wonderful. I can’t wait for our next game.”
The Sailors shot just 33 percent from the floor in falling to Lexington in the district semifinal last season. Shooting was not an issue Wednesday as Vermilion connected on 21 of 43 field goals (48.8 percent).
“We shot 2-for-29 (from 3-point range) last year and we knew that wasn’t going to happen again tonight,” Pfeil said. “This means everything. Every win means everything now. It’s win or go home, and none of us want to go home.”
Sailors coach Kurt Habermehl said he was looking for a turnaround game from Pfeil, who was just 2-of-13 from the floor for five points in a sectional championship win over Shelby.
Pfeil responded by hitting 7 of 14 field goals, grabbing four rebounds and getting four steals.
“We challenged him,” Habermehl said. “He struggled against Shelby the other night and we challenged him in practice and kept talking to him. I give him a lot of credit because he was huge tonight. Not only did he score, but he also guarded Quan Hilory all night and did a fantastic job on him.”
Hilory scored 18 points, but was just 6-of-15 shooting.
“I’ve been in a slump but I knew I had to step up for the team,” Pfeil said. “I knew this was a big game and we needed everybody to play their best. I stepped it up and my shots were falling.”
The game had special meaning for Pfeil and senior Luke Pena. Both missed the district semifinal loss last year with injuries — Pfeil recovering from a broken foot and Pena with a hand injury.
Pena scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds while helping hold Mansfield senior center Dontavious Burton to two points.
“To be so close last year and lose to the team that made it to state, minus a couple of guys, it’s pretty gratifying to get this win tonight,” Habermehl said. “Now we hope we can get one on Saturday.”
The Tygers (19-5) were held to 19 points in the second half as Vermilion turned up the pressure defense in a fast-paced game in front of a raucous crowd.
“We love physical, we love talking, we love when they have a big crowd,” Pfeil said. “The atmosphere is our favorite part. It’s what motivates us and makes the game more fun. When we get a crowd like that, with the talk and the aggression on both sides, it pumps us up.”
Mason Montgomery added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Sailors. Senior Seth Hurd scored five points and committed just two turnovers against Mansfield’s constant pressure defense.
“They told him at the beginning of the season he wasn’t playing basketball at all,” Habermehl said of Hurd, who broke his leg early during football season. “He’s worked his way back and I can honestly say I think he’s close to 100 percent now. He’s our general. He’s tough as nails and he’s who we look to when things need to get done.”
Hurd said the coaching staff did a good job preparing Vermilion for Mansfield’s pressure defense.
“I love those guys. We put our all into that game and came out on top,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team and our coaches. They gave us the right game plan and we executed it. It was amazing.”
Vermilion, the third seed, will face top-seeded Norwalk on Saturday with a trip to the regional tournament on the line. The game, back at Madison Middle School, will tip off at 2 p.m.
“Hopefully we can go more steps further,” Pena said. “We’re healthier than last year and we play as a team. We’re playing for each other. We love playing in front of big crowds. You have to live in the moment and I don’t think there is a bigger atmosphere than there was tonight … except maybe Saturday.
“We love the big moment. That’s when we thrive the most.”
Vermilion 59, Mansfield 51
MANSFIELD (51): De’Zion Taylor 2-0-4, Dontavious Burtin 1-0-2, Quan Hilory 6-5-18, Jakobe Reese 2-0-4, Angelo Grose 3-1-8, Cameron Todd 3-0-6, Anthony Hawkins 1-2-4, Devin Brown 2-0-5. Totals 20-8-51.
VERMILION (59): Jonah Pfeil 7-5-20, Seth Hurd 1-3-5, Mason Montgomery 4-4-12, Luke Pena 3-0-6, Reese Miller 3-2-9, Sterling Benko 1-0-3, Zach Kovach 2-0-4, Ryan Habermehl 0-0-0. Totals 21-14-59.
Mansfield 18 14 10 9 — 51
Vermilion 17 12 16 14 — 59
Three-point goals: Mansfield 3-16 (Hilory, Grose, Brown), Vermilion 3-12 (Pfeil, Miller, Benko). Field goals: 20-55 (36.3 percent), Vermilion 21-43 (48.8 percent). Free throws: Mansfield 8-11 (72.7 percent), Vermilion 14-19 (73.7 percent). Rebounds: Mansfield 27 (Reese 7), Vermilion 34 (Pena 7, Montgomery 7, Miller 7). Turnovers: Mansfield 11, Vermilion 17. Fouls: Mansfield 19, Vermilion 9.