The People's Tribune

Van-Far Indians Win State Championship!

Indians Come From Behind To Win State Crown In Dramatic Overtime Thriller

Van-Far junior Trey Miller scored the first basket of the state championship game against Hayti, muscled up a bucket to tie the game and force overtime and then hit the final shot that captured the MSHSAA Class 2 title for the Indians in a thrilling 56-55 victory last week.

The talented Hayti team pushed ahead of Van-Far after Miller’s opening basket and stretched the lead to as many as 13 points. The Indians were able to trim that lead to five but Hayti kept finding ways to run the lead back up to around 10 points throughout the game.

Hayti led by eight points with 1:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, but that was the last time they scored in regulation as Van-Far’s defense found key stops and the offense battled back.

Senior Josh Hodde knocked down a bucket at 1:34 to trim the lead to six. Baskets by Miller and Brayden Christian cut the lead to two. With 22 ticks on the clock, Miller hammered inside to tie the score at 50 points each. Hayti put up two shots in the final seconds but the Van-Far defense stood tall. Hayti’s Darius Jones drove the lane, but couldn’t hit and a put-back by Ivory Winters dropped short to send the contest to an extra session.

Jones got the first two points of overtime. The Indians answered with a put-back by Verlyn Johnson to knot the score at 52. Hayti’s Chrivantae Moore knocked down a long-range three to put them ahead 55-52.

Lathyn McMorris stole the ball and hit a shot to bring the Indians within one point, 55-54. With just 8.7 seconds left in overtime, Coach Pat Connaway called a timeout to set up the play.

Caden Wilburn was handed the ball and found Miller open 10 feet away with his back to the hoop. With Devante Robinson on his back, Miller backed in, faked right, then spun left toward the hoop to beat the defense and put the Indians up by a point, 56-55, with four seconds left in the game.

Hayti moved the ball up the floor but was knocked out of bounds at mid-court by the Indians with under a second to play. Assistant Coach Brett Reading summoned 6’7” Dillion Minor off the bench to cover the 5’9” Moore on the inbound play. Minor’s impressive wingspan forced Hayti to burn two timeouts to plan a heroic move around him. Moore tossed the ball as high as he could, but Minor tipped the ball into the back-court to draw the final horn and the first state title since 2004.

The win capped an 18-game win streak to finish the season with a 29-3 record – a best for Van-Far. The comeback was the second overtime win of the postseason along with a state quarterfinal win over Milan last week. The Indians only had the lead for 22 seconds of the championship game.

After Miller scored the first basket of the game, Hayti responded with a three-ball from Jerrod Covington to take the lead away from the Indians. It opened an 8-0 run for Hayti and they led 17-7 after the first quarter despite some great defensive stops by Johnson off the bench.

McMorris opened the second quarter with a three of his own for Van-Far, but was matched my Darius Jones at the other end for Hayti and the Indians still trailed by 10.

The Hayti lead grew to 13 points before Caden Wilburn hit four straight free throws for Van-Far and Treyson Culwell came off the bench to bang home a big three-point shot. Wilburn added a three to cut the Hayti lead to just five points with 1:34 to go in the half.

Hayti scored once more from the field before the buzzer to lead the Indians 27-20 as the teams went to the locker room at halftime.

The first minute of the second half went nearly scoreless before Josh Hodde grabbed a long rebound off a Jones miss and fed McMorris for a jumper to pull the Indians back within five points. Jones came back with four straight points for Hayti. A fast and aggressive quarter for both teams ended with Hayti leading 39-30 going into the final frame of regulation.

The Hayti lead grew to 10 points before forward Trey Miller went to work for the Indians. Miller scored eight points in the fourth and McMorris drained a huge pair of three pointers for the Indians to dissolve the Hayti lead.

Coach Pat Connaway noted it was truly a team win with critical contributions from a number of players.

“I just can’t say enough about the kids,” he remarked on TribCast after the game. “They’re resilient. They won’t quit. We don’t give up.”

He added later that he and Assistant Coach Brett Reading had a good feeling after the third quarter despite being outscored by Hayti 12-10 in that frame. He noted that they urged the boys to keep their heads in it. He said the big boards and stops by Miller and Johnson were big things to rally around.

When talking about the final Van-Far basket, Connaway joked that Miller is “the biggest bully in the yard” and added, “he just put his head down like a bull and got to the rim.”

Connaway added that he was so proud of every kid on the team and the “wizard with the pen” describing Reading. He noted this team has been working together since grade school and they just don’t quit.

Miller said winning the championship was an undescribable experience. He recounted his final basket to seal the win.

“I got the ball, did a little spin and nobody was there,” he said. “I just took it up and scored.”

He observed that all the hard work in the gym over the summer and throughout the season paid off.

The Trib asked Verlyn Johnson about coming off the bench and coming up with blocks early to stifle the Hayti momentum.

“It felt better when I heard all the noise and screams.”

He added that he’d have to watch the film later to see how it all happened.

“This makes all of us proud to be Indians and we’re happy.”

Senior Josh Hodde was also quick to point to Johnson’s minutes as game-changing.

“He came in and set the table for all of us.”

Senior Brayden Christian has shared minutes with Johnson in the postseason.

“It’s never been a question about who scores more, who gets the most rebounds. Nobody cares about that,” he asserted. “We just all really care about winning. We achieved the ultimate goal.”

Hodde echoed Christian’s sentiments.

“This is a whole team thing,” he remarked. “We’ve really come together as a family.”

Caden Wilburn pointed out that everyone on the team can score and work well together as teammates.

“If we’re open – we’re going to knock it down.”

Van-Far has four seniors who will graduate this year in Colten Jensen, McMorris, Christian and Hodde. Connaway noted they will be sorely missed.

“They are four outstanding individuals and no egos. They just work together,” he said. “But it I have to lose them, I want them going out as state champs.”

Miller finished the championship game with 16 points, five rebounds and two steals. McMorris scored 15 and pulled down six boards. Wilburn had seven points and went 4-4 from the charity stripe along with a game-leading 11 rebounds. Hodde also had seven points, five rebounds and two assists. Johnson knocked down six points and had nine rebounds and four blocks. Treyson Culwell had three points and Christian rounded out the scoring with two.

Van-Far bested Mid-Buchanan in an exciting 58-55 victory on Thursday night.

The Indians were down by two after the first quarter, 13-11, despite four points from Caden Wilburn and Josh Hodde and a three-pointer by Brayden Christian.

In the second quarter Christian knocked down a couple more three pointers as well as Lathyn McMorris and one from Caden Wilburn. A field goal from Miller gave Van-Far 17 in the quarter but Mid-Buchanan led at halftime 32-28.

The Indians stole the show in the third quarter, outscoring the Dragons 16-6 as McMorris led the way with six points. Hodde contributed a couple of buckets along with baskets from Caden Wilburn, Christian and Miller.

While Mid-Buchanan outscored Van-Far in the final frame, 17-14, the Indians were able to hang on at the free throw line. McMorris hit a basket, a big three-pointer and went 4-6 at the line in the fourth to help clinch the victory and move the Indians into the championship.

McMorris finished the night with 21 points (including four three-pointers), four rebounds and four steals. Caden Wilburn hit 13 points, five boards and two assists. Hodde scored 10 and led rebounding with nine, four assists and two steals. Christian contributed eight points and four rebounds. Miller had six points and six boards to round out scoring.

A parade will be held this Thursday, March 15 starting at 4:30 p.m. The parade will line up at the park and will go through downtown. It will end with a reception at the high school to recognize the team and coaches.

Both state games were featured on TribCast and can be accessed in the archive. Streaming video was not allowed at state but video highlights are available on the Trib’s Facebook page. Fans can also find free, downloadable photo highlights and more at

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