The People's Tribune

Indians Claim Third at State

The Van-Far Indians made school history with their return to the MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown last weekend at Missouri State University in Springfield.
The defending state champion Indians squared off with 2017 champion Oran in the Class 2 Semifinal at JQH Arena on Friday morning. The Eagles were riding a 21-game winning streak going into the match-up.
Van-Far jumped out sharp in the opening quarter. Verdell Johnson sank the first basket as five Indians lit the scoreboard in the first which included five points from Verlyn Johnson and buckets from Caden Wilburn, Colin Wilburn and Trey Miller. 
Van-Far ended the first with a one-point advantage, 13-12. 
Miller kicked off the second quarter with a bucket to extend the lead, but Oran’s scoring leader Jacob Shoemaker tied the game at 15 with a three-pointer. He went on to drain another three to put the Eagles ahead for the first time in the game. Shoemaker punctuated a 17-9 quarter for Oran by sinking two more treys in the stanza. Miller and Caden Wilburn netted four points each in the period before going into the locker room trailing 29-22.
The Indians came out strong in the third. While Oran got on the board first, Van-Far went on an 8-0 run to bring the score to within one point. 
Oran used their potent full-court press to course-correct and regained control with a 6-0 run of their own. That was as close as Van-Far would come the rest of the game.
Coach Pat Connaway said it was like the team tried to catch their breath when they got the score to within one point and Oran exploited that breath. And the Indians didn’t have another run in them.
Oran edged Van-Far in the third, 12-10, for a nine-point lead, 41-32, going into the final frame of the semifinal game to determine which of the former champions would play for the title.
The Eagles shut the door with a 17-8 fourth that included a 7-11 showing at the free throw line. 
Van-Far shot below their usual at 42.5 percent and was only 2-12 from behind the arc. The Indians were also just 4-9 from the charity stripe. 
Oran shot over 60 percent and was 6-9 from three-point range. Shoemaker led the Eagles with 24 points and played all but one minute of the semifinal game.
Caden Wilburn led the way for the Indians with 13 points, including two three-pointers, to earn the Community State Bank TribCast Player of the Game.
Other scoring: Miller, 9; Verlyn Johnson, 7; Verdell Johnson, 7; Colin Wilburn, 2; Dillion Minor, 2.
Coach Pat Connaway noted it was disappointing that the Indians didn’t perform at their highest level in the semifinal.
“We started off great, but then let their pressure take us out of our attack mode. We were very passive and didn’t look to play downhill. I really thought their style played into our hands since their style was identical to Milan and Cairo so our game prep was very similar.”
Connaway noted they were still very confident at halftime and wanted everyone to calm down and execute the game plan.
“In the third we came out strong and were very good defensively. We kept chipping away and cut the lead to one and had a chance to take the lead and we took a bad shot which lead to a transition bucket for them and then we missed a lay-up and the rebound kicked out to the three-point line and they got another easy bucket then we turned the ball over before we could get a time out and within 30 seconds we went from down one to down seven,” Connaway explained. “Coming to the bench you could tell the wind was out of our sails. Everything we fought back for was gone and we were right back where we started.”
Connaway noted that he credits Oran for being the better team that day.
Van-Far bounced back for the third place game on Saturday morning against Plattsburg at the Hammon Student Center.
The Indians had the edge after the first quarter as Dillion Minor and Trey Miller each notched four points along with baskets from Caden Wilburn and Verdell Johnson. Despite four lead changes, Van-Far was ahead 12-10 to end the first quarter. 
Plattsburg’s leading scorer Garrett Stephens and Trey Miler traded baskets to start the second stanza. Stephens picked up a foul and on the following possession, when a teammate picked up another foul Stephens was charged with a technical. 
With an empty court, Miller sank four consecutive free throws. He notched two more buckets in the frame to put the Indians in firm control. Sam Middleton also scored four points in the quarter, along with a basket from Treyson Culwell as Van-Far outscored Plattsburg 16-9.
The Indians led 28-19 at halftime and was shooting 44 percent from the field. The team was also 6-7 from the free throw line since Miller sank all six he shot. 
Van-Far didn’t let up after the break as the Indians outscored the Tigers 17-9 in the third. Caden Wilburn notched the first basket of the frame and then drained a pair of three-pointers to stretch the lead. Verlyn Johnson scored five in the period as well as baskets from Culwell and Verdell Johnson.
Despite going to the free throw line eight times in the fourth quarter, Plattsburg was only able to convert one point as the frustration was evident for the Tigers. Van-Far put the game away with an 11-6 effort in the final period to win 56-34 and collect the third place hardware.
Miller led the scoring effort with 17 points (including a 7-8 performance at the free throw line) to earn the Community State Bank TribCast Player of the Game.
Other scoring: Caden Wilburn, 10; Verdell Johnson, 6; Verlyn Johnson, 6; Minor, 4; Middleton, 4; Culwell, 4; Aidan Lowrance, 2; Morgan Slatten, 2; Jamael Troy, 1.
Coach Connaway noted that it was evident from the beginning of the game that the boys were there to play on Saturday.
“The boys handled themselves very well and kept their composure when calls weren’t going our way,” Connaway noted. “In the first quarter it was eight team fouls to one,” he remarked. “Verlyn, Caden and Colin all were on the bench with two fouls each.”
Connaway pointed out that players off the bench were huge in the game.
“Dillion, Treyson and Sam logged a lot of minutes in the first and second quarters and were outstanding. Verdell played very well and Trey put the team on his back offensively scoring 14 of his game-high 17 in the first half.”
Connaway added the team was outstanding defensively.
“We held them to 10 points in the first and nine in the second and took a 28-19 lead into the locker room,” he reported. “At half, Coach [Brett Reading] and I commended them on their focus and effort and challenged them to come out in the third quarter and push the lead to 20.”
The boys did exactly what had been asked of them. 
“Our ball movement was great and the defense was just as good. Caden was aggressive on offense and scored eight of his 10 points in the third and we built a 17-point lead heading to the fourth,” Connaway explained. 
He pointed out the team mostly killed clock in the fourth to cruise to the 22-point victory.
“It was a fitting way to send these great seniors out! Two years in a row they got to end their season with a victory,” Connaway asserted. “While third place wasn’t what we wanted when the weekend started, we are happy as can be to finish third place in Class 2A. There isn’t a team in Class 2A that has been as successful as the Van-Far Indians.”
He added that the championship and third place in consecutive years is an incredible accomplishment and something the kids, coaches, cheerleaders, parents and the community will never forget.
“Coming into this year Coach [Reading] and I thought we could win 20 games and had a good shot to repeat as District Champs, but weren’t sure how far we could make it,” Connaway explained. 
The team had to replace three starters and one of the top subs that were lost last year to graduation.
“We lost our top two guards – one was an All-Stater and the other was All-District and should have been an All-Stater,” Connaway said.
“We knew we had the pieces in place, but weren’t sure how the juniors would perform stepping into the varsity roles. We continued to get better and better and shortly after Christmas we had our rotations in place.”
Connaway added this is a totally different team from last year and a team that actually did some things better than the state champion team.
“We were a better rebounding team and were a stronger and a more physical team, but we didn’t have the offensive fire power and the speed that we had last year, so we had to figure out a way that would fit our needs this year. The kids kept working hard and we just kept getting better and better defensively. The one thing this team shared with last year’s team was that ‘chip on their shoulder,’” Connaway remarked. “No one thought we could do it last year and we did it and no one this year thought we could do it and we made it back to the Final Four.”
He pointed out that no one thought they could beat a previously undefeated Milan and then totally handled Cairo to go back-to-back in the Final Four for the first time in school history.
“That ‘one day at a time – never quit’ mentality is something these kids bought into and they are just winners. This group will have their name on two banners hanging in our gym and no other group can say that,” Connaway pointed out.
Van-Far will lose seniors Caden Wilburn, Jamael Troy, Verlyn Johnson, Dillion Minor, Riley Culwell, Treyson Culwell and Trey Miller to graduation. 
“I can’t say enough about our seniors. They are great kids on and off the floor. Every year you form bonds with the kids you coach, but there is something unique about this group. It is bittersweet right now,” Connaway admitted. “I’m so proud of them for their accomplishments, but so disappointed that we will never be able to coach them again. They definitely put a stamp on the history books in Van-Far Basketball and have done the same in my heart.”
Connaway noted that he wishes them the best of luck in everything they do.
“I know all seven of them will be successful no matter what they decide to do. I will close by thanking them for two of the best years of coaching I have ever had,” he added. “Thanks for the thrills and the memories. I will cherish them and you guys for the rest of my life.”

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