NAUGATUCK – The fat is in the Fire! The roar of Tug Valley’s fire can be heard as far as Pennsylvania. The Panthers are on their way to the Regionals after defeating Van 57-32 on Friday night at Tug Valley High School Gymnasium.
Spectators were stacked to the rafters, and the crowd was determined to blow the roof off the place. Prior to the game there was a competitive crowd “cheer-off.” The Van cheering section was smaller in number but louder than the hometown crowd; until the second half when the gym erupted in Panther celebration.
Calvin Blankenship started off the game with a smooth 3-pointer from the left corner. Van played tough and gave the Panthers a fight throughout the first period. Tug Valley was larger in stature and quicker, but the Van Bulldogs gave it everything they had.
The Panthers were playing sloppy in the first period. Jeremy Dillon caught an oop from teammate Calvin Blankenship hoping to ignite a spark, the dunk bounced off of the back of the rim. Despite the Panthers miscommunication the individual play was good, Dillon completed a cross over that sent a Van player flying towards the floor. Garret Brown hit a 3-pointer at just over a minute to play, but Van fought back and tied the score at eight points to end the first period.
The Panthers entered the second period like they had been awoke from slumber, Johnathan Blankenship swatted a Van shot almost out of the gym on the first play of the second period. Tug began to find a team rhythm. The Panthers outscored the Bulldogs 22-13 in the second period. Between six minutes left to play and the four minute mark the Panthers the hit an invisible wall of sloppy mistakes. Tug Valley’s Head Coach, Ed May, had the opportunity to call a time out but the Panthers played through.
The game took a turn after Dillon hit a 3-pointer and created some space for the Panthers. Dillon took the ball at the top of the key, crossed right, and then behind the back and hit the shot; nothing but net. Dillon’s shot was smoother than water flowing around a rock. That put Tug Valley up by six points to which they turned into an eight point lead at halftime. The score was 30-21 at the half.
“I thought we showed up more to put on a show than we did to play ball, we talked about that at halftime” said May.
The Panthers came out in the third period making 5 of 12 shots and all three foul shots. The Panthers doubled the Bulldogs score at 14-7 in the third. Tug took complete control at the 2:40 mark when Calvin Blankenship scored on an easy lay-up to give the Panthers a 12 point lead. Tyler May added two more points on a fast break lay-up and at the 1:05 mark Dillon was knocked to the floor, hard, by a Van player. The call was intentional and Dillon stepped to the line and sank two free throws to add two more points.
Tug had a sizable lead heading into the fourth and had kept Van scoreless for over two minutes. Van began to miss foul shots, they made 3 out of 8 in the final period. The Panthers had increased the lead to 25 points by the 1:30 mark and played keep away with the ball during the final minute remaining. The ending score was 57-32.
The Panthers didn’t miss one foul shot throughout the game, they were 15 of 15 from the free throw line. Dillon led the Panthers in scoring with 16 points; he shot 30 percent from the floor but made 9 out of 9 free throws. Dillon also had six assists. Next up was Tyler May who scored 14 points, with a 50 percent shooting average and 100 percent from the foul line. The Blankenship brothers scored nine points apiece.
May said, “I didn’t think we came out very focused in the first half, we corrected it and then came out in the second half and locked down on defense, rebounded well, and executed a lot better. We played better offensively and stopped settling for shots. We played a heck of a lot better in the second half than the first.”
Tug Valley will advance to host Midland Trail this upcoming Wednesday in the Co-Regional final at 7:00 p.m. Midland Trail lost to Fayettteville 74-54 on Friday night.
The top two teams from each section will advance to the Regional games.
Van will advance into the Regionals as well, the Bulldog crowd faded out of the gym, after the game, chanting “we aren’t done yet!”
The Panther crowd stayed to watch the winning team cut down the net, waving goodbye.
Score by quarters:
Van” 8 13 7 4 – 32
Tug: 8 22 14 13 – 57
Van: Green 0 0-0 0, Gibson 0 0-0 0, Crouse 1 0-0 2, Honeycut 1 0-0 2, Gibson 0 1-2 1, Price 0 0-0 0, Jarrell 6 2-2 16, Price 1 3-5 5, Stewart 0 0-4 0, Smith 1 0-0 2, Lail 2 0-0 4, Sanders 0 0-0 0, Moore 0 0-0 0, Totals 12 6-13 32
Tug Valley: Dillon 3 9-9 16, J. Blankenship 3 3-3 9, Deskins 0 0-0 0, Runyon 1 0-0 2, Preece 0 0-0 0, T. May 5 3-3 14, Spaulding 0 0-0 0, Oliver 2 0-0 4, Carter 0 0-0 0, Brown 1 0-0 3, C. Blankenship 4 0-0 9, Colegrove 0 0-0 0, Lucas 0 0-0 0, C. May 0 0-0 0, Savage 0 0-0 0, Ooten 0 0-0 0, Totals 19 15-15 57.
3-point goals: V – Jarrell 2; TV – Dillon, May, Brown, Ca. Blankenship.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplaster)