PIASA – Blake Vandiver of the Roxana Shells hit the shot heard ’round the Greater Alton area Friday night.
His 35-foot desperation shot just before the buzzer propelled the Shells past top-seeded Southwestern, 56-53, in the Class 2A Piasa Birds’ regional championship overtime thriller.
“I can’t explain it," Vandiver, a 5-foot-8 junior guard said of his dramatic trey. “I chucked it up with three or four seconds left in the game and it went in the basket. I felt pretty good about it going in when I shot it, then I went crazy after it did.
“It’s amazing. I’m at a loss for words. But I’ll never forget it.”
The 16-15 Shells move on to the nearby East Alton-Wood River Sectional and play Pinckneyville at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Breese Mater Dei meets Greenville at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the other sectional semifinal. The championship game is set for 7 p.m. on Friday, March 6.
“This is one of the biggest wins in school history,” Roxana coach Mark Briggs said. “It’s very gratifying. Our kids showed great poise and composure the whole game.”
The Shells won their second OT game in as many nights. They defeated Gillespie, 57-47, on Thursday. Southwestern closed at 21-7.
“It came down to us not making shots. We just didn’t finish it,” Piasa Birds’ coach Jason Darr said. “That’s just the way it works sometimes. It happens.”
Blake Lawson of Southwestern appeared to have punched in the winning shot with 4.4 seconds to play. His basket gave the Piasa Birds a 53-52 lead.
Back came the Shells. Vandiver’s long shot gave the Shells a 55-53 lead and it seemed as if the game was over. Or was it?
The three floor officials huddled and decided to put 1.2 seconds on the clock.
“I don’t think there was ever any decision about whether it (Vandiver’s shot) was a basket,” Darr said. “It was about whether to put any time on the clock.”
Briggs added, “There was no question that the shot counted. There was a question about how much time was on the clock.”
The Piasa Birds tried to inbound the ball, but were called for a violation. They immediately fouled Randy Skiff, who made one of two free throws to complete the scoring. Roxana thus earned payback for an 11-point loss to Southwestern on the Piasa Birds’ court earlier this month.
“It’s a signature win for our program,” said Briggs, serving his 14th season as the Shells’ head coach. The win gave Roxana its fifth regional title in school history, covering 73 seasons. The Shells last won one in 2012-13.
Briggs noted, ”I’ve never been in a game like this one. We did a nice job on offense with our ball screening and our defense played great. We went with a tandem defense with three guys playing man-to-man and the other two in a zone tandem.”
Chance Foss’ 16 points powered the Shells. Randy Skiff pitched in 15 points, while Vandiver logged 12 points, including arguably the most memorable basket in school annals.
“It’s a big thrill and right up there with our football team making the playoffs,” said Vandiver, a top running back. “I’m really proud of our team and coaches.”
Briggs said the Shells came through in the clutch, just as they did Thursday night in eliminating Gillespie.
“It’s a tribute to our kids and we keep going forward with our program,” he said. “This team is all about guts and will power. We may not be flashy or athletic, but the kids have a strong desire to win.”
He said the Shells are delighted to play in familiar Memorial Gymnasium next week. They hope to have something of a homecourt edge competing in Wood River.
“I live three minutes from the gym, so I can walk to it,” Briggs quipped.
Briston Johnson’s 11 points led Southwestern, which used an 11-0 spurt to surge ahead 43-36 with 4:05 to play in regulation. The Piasa Birds owned a 45-38 advantage with 3.5 minutes to go, but the Shells scored seven consecutive points to force an overtime. Foss’ trey with 62 seconds remaining tied it, setting the scene for Vandiver's wonder shot.
“When it happens like that,” Darr said of Vandiver’s bomb, “you really feel for your kids. It’s the toughest loss I’ve ever seen and for our kids.”
Tyler Rose and Lawson both scored nine points to complement Johnson’s work. Andrew Fry and Collin Baumgartner added eight points apiece. The Shells held the 6-6 Rose scoreless the first half and limited the 6-6 Baumgartner to one basket in the second half and overtime.
“We had a pretty good season,” Darr said. “Unfortunately, everybody will remember this one.”
CLASS 2A SOUTHWESTERN REGIONAL
ROXANA 56, SOUTHWESTERN 53, OT
Roxana 14 8 14 9 (11) – 56
Southwestern 13 10 12 10 (8) – 53
Roxana (16-15) – Trace Gentry 8, Chance Foss 16, Randy Skiff 15, Zach Golenor 5, Blake Vandiver 12. 2FG-16 3FG-5 FT-9 PF-15
Southwestern (21-7) – Tyler Rose 9, Andrew Fry 8, Blake Lawson 9, Collin Baumgartner 8, Connor Robinson 3, Justin Bailey 2, Briston Johnson 11, Zach Seymour 3. 2FG-19 3FG-3 Ft-6 PF-17