WELLSTON — After capturing a league championship, the second goal of the Vinton County High School boys basketball team is to “get to the Convo.”
No matter how the Vikings get there, the point is to just get there.
Style points, after all, do not matter.
And, although it was far from flawless on Saturday at Wellston High School, the Vikings are once again returning to the Ohio University Convocation Center.
That’s because the Vikings vanquished the New Lexington Panthers 44-33 on Saturday in a Division II sectional championship tilt.
With the win, Vinton County raised its stellar record to 20-1, the second-straight 20-win season and third in the last five years.
In addition, the top-seeded Vikings have now won the same amount of sectional titles in that same time span. They have played in five straight sectional championship bouts.
The Vikings’ win streak now stretches to a dozen, as they started the season a perfect 8-0. They have also won 48 of their last 51 overall games.
In the past two winters alone, the Maroon and White are an amazing 42-2.
Vinton County will now face Washington Court House in the Division II district semifinals.
On Saturday, in the sectional final, it escaped the upset bid by the eighth-seeded Panthers.
Vinton County, in four of the past five sectional tournaments, has defeated New Lexington, including three straight from 2004 to 2006 in the semifinal round.
They have also tamed the Panthers in two of those regular seasons, including last year in which a last-second shot helped preserve a perfect regular campaign.
New Lexington, once again, played the Vikings tough on Saturday, and VCHS didn’t help its cause by struggling on the offensive end.
In uncharacteristic fashion, the Vikes failed to make a three, sank only 8-of-24 foul shots, and standout senior center Dustin Guthrie scored just three points.
Still, the Vikings found a way to win — and get to the Convo.
“If you would have told me before the game that we wouldn’t make a three, shoot horrific from the free-throw line and Dustin Guthrie would score just three points, I would have told you we’d be going home,” said Vinton County coach Matt Combs. “We missed layups, our shooting percentage could not be very good and we really struggled offensively and at the line. But it’s a credit to our kids to find a way to win and win this game defensively. It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. At this point in the season, it’s survive and advance in the tournament.”
The Vikings fell behind 5-0, but surged ahead with an 18-4 run to double up the Panthers with six minutes remaining in the first half.
But New Lex whittled away at the deficit, trailing 20-14 at halftime and 27-24 with only 1:22 to play in the third.
However, the Vikings finished the quarter with a fury, scoring the final six points of the canto to increase the cushion back to nine.
They then opened the fourth frame with the first seven points, stretching the lead to 40-24 with 4:40 remaining. It was their largest margin of the day.
A 9-2 run by New Lexington in the next 2:55, capped off by a Jordan Binkley three, brought the Panthers back to within single digits.
But, it was as close as they would get. Junior post Jake Prater put in the game’s final points for the Vikings’ 44.
Prater picked up the slack for the Vikes, pouring in a game-high 19 points. Of his eight field goals and 3-of-7 free throws, he scored seven in the opening quarter and six in the last.
Guthrie, who averaged 20 points per game in the regular season, missed nine of his 10 shots and seven of his eight free throws. One of his field goal attempts was a three.
Guthrie faced double-and-triple teams all afternoon, as the contest was a physical one with quite a bit of contact.
“It was a physical game. It was a wrestling match at there at times both ways,” said Combs. “At the same time, they let us play physical also. It wasn’t poorly officiated, it was just consistent. We didn’t do a good job at times of adjusting to the game. Part of the tournament is being able to do that.”
The Vikings shot just 35-percent (18-of-52), and failed to connect on any of their 10 three-point attempts.
Even worse, they were 8-of-24 at the line.
The 44 points for the game, including just four points in the second quarter, were both season-lows. So were Guthrie’s three points.
“We couldn’t buy a bucket or a free throw,” said Combs. “It was draining to us as a coaching staff. I don’t know how it could have gotten much worse offensively.”
Which meant the Vikings had to get defensive.
They stymied the Panthers to single digits in three of the four periods, including nine in the first and fourth and five in the second. In the third, New Lexington managed 10.
New Lex also struggled from the field, shooting just 30-percent (15-of-50) overall and 29-percent from three-point (5-of-17) range.
The Vikings were whistled for only 10 fouls, forced 20 turnovers, and blocked six shots.
The Panthers, conversely, committed 18 personals, and went to the line a mere three times.
“We won this game with our defense,” said Combs. “At halftime, we talked about if this (physical play) was the way the game was going to go, then we needed to come out in the second half and adjust to it.”
The Vikings did that late in the third quarter.
After Ryan Stewart scored to make it 22-14, the Panthers crept as close as three on three separate occasions.
The last of those was at 27-24 with 1:22 to play.
But Andrew Eberts scored twice in the final 1:05, and Stewart stole and scored with just 12 seconds left to boost the edge back to nine.
The Vikings then opened the fourth with free throws from Andy Grillo, Prater, Eberts and Guthrie. Sandwiched in between was a basket by Prater.
Just 3:20 in, the VCHS cushion stood at 40-24.
Over the same 4:25, the Panthers misfired on four shots and committed four straight turnovers.
In falling behind 5-0 and 7-2, the Vikings made their initial charge of the contest, scoring 10 unanswered for a 12-7 lead.
New Lexington failed to score for a stretch of 4:45, and trailed 16-9 at the end of the first quarter.
The Vikings doubled the lead to 18-9 and 20-10, as Prater posted all four of their second-period points.
The Panthers, though, scored the final four points of the half on baskets by Corbin Wollenberg.
However, they could only cut the 20-14 halftime deficit in half.
Only five players scored for each team, including Eberts for the Vikings, who also reached double figures with 12. He had five field goals, including three in the third, and 2-of-5 free throws.
Stewart scored seven and Grillo tied Guthrie with three.
Guthrie did grab a team-high 15 rebounds, and blocked five of the squad’s six shots. Grillo dished out six assists, and made off with five steals.
Eberts added nine rebounds as Grillo and Prater posted five apiece. Vinton County held a 40-31 rebounding advantage.
Bryant Folk was high-point for the Panthers as he — like Eberts — had a dozen. He also hit the team’s other three, and was 1-of-2 at the charity stripe.
Folk also ripped down a game-high 16 rebounds, blocked the team’s three shots and made two thefts.
Binkley bagged seven points and Wollenberg six, as Daniel Wollenberg and Brett Wycinski each scored four. Binkley and Corbin Wollenberg had three field goals apiece, while Daniel Wollenberg and Wycinski each netted two.
Wycinski, who had four first-half fouls, fouled out with 4:55 to play in the third frame. Wycinski had paced the Panthers with 18 points in their 59-53 semifinal win over Jackson on Wednesday.
The loss ended New Lexington’s season at 6-16.
The Vikings, however, reached their goal of getting back to the Convocation Center in Athens.
“Before the season began, all of the kids on their goal sheets filled out winning the TVC (Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division) and getting to the Convo (Convocation Center). We’ve reached our first two goals,” said Combs. “Now we have to re-evaluate our goals and make new ones, and one of those will be to win a district title. But we have a lot of things to get better at in order to do that.”
That quest begins on Friday, when the Vikings encounter the Washington Court House Blue Lions. Washington won 57-51 over Circleville in another Division II sectional championship match.
“Washington Court House is super athletic,” said Combs. “They have a lot of excellent athletes, and they are strong and quick. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
The Vikings and Blue Lions will battle at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in the Convocation Center.
Until then, Vinton County can savor its goal of getting there.
* * *
New Lex 9 5 10 9 — 33
Vinton Co. 16 4 13 11 — 44
NEW LEXINGTON 33 (6-16)
Brett Wycinski 2 0-0 4, Matt Etherly 0 0-0 0, Daniel Wollenberg 2 0-0 4, Corbin Wollenberg 3 0-1 6, Jordan Binkley 3 0-0 7, Bryant Folk 5 1-2 12, Robbie Meikle 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 15 1-3 33; Three-point field goals: 2 (Jordan Binkley and Bryant Folk 1 apiece)
VINTON COUNTY (20-1)
Andy Grillo 1 1-2 3, Ryan Stewart 3 1-2 7, Andrew Eberts 5 2-5 12, Ethan Allen 0 0-0 0, Ben Batey 0 0-0 0, Dustin Guthrie 1 1-8 3, Jake Prater 8 3-7 19; TOTALS 18 8-24 44; Three-point field goals: none
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — New Lexington 15-50 (.300), 2-point field goals 13-33 (.394), 3-point field goals 5-17 (.294); Vinton County 18-52 (.346), 2-point field goals 18-42 (.429), 3-point field goals 0-10 (.000); Free throws — New Lexington 1-3 (.333), Vinton County 8-24 (.333); Rebounds —New Lexington 31 (Bryant Folk 16), Vinton County 40 (Dustin Guthrie 15, Andrew Eberts 9); Steals — New Lexington 6 (Bryant Folk 2), Vinton County 13 (Andy Grillo 5); Assists — New Lexington 9, Vinton County 10 (Andy Grillo 6); Blocks — New Lexington 3 (Bryant Folk 3), Vinton County 6 (Dustin Guthrie 5); Turnovers — New Lexington 20, Vinton County 13; Team fouls — New Lexington 18, Vinton County 10