NAUGATUCK – The Tug Valley High School basketball team is on its way to the Class A regional tourney after defeating Van 57-32 last Friday night in the sectional finals at the Tug Valley High School gymnasium in Naugatuck.
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.
That is, 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 alley-oop from teammate Calvin Blankenship hoping to ignite a spark, but the dunk bounced off the back of the rim.
Despite the Panthers’ miscommunication the individual play was good as 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 8-8 to end the first period.
The Panthers entered the second period like they had been awoke from slumber as Johnathan Blankenship swatted a Van shot almost out of the gym on the first play of the second period.
Tug then 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 hit an invisible wall of sloppy mistakes.
Tug Valley 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. That put Tug Valley up by six points to which they turned into a nine-point lead at halftime as Tug led 30-21.
“I thought we showed up more to put on a show than we did to play ball, we talked about that at halftime,” May said.
The Panthers came out in the third period making 5 of 12 shots and all three foul shots.
Tug Valley 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 layup to give the Panthers a 12-point lead.
Tyler May added two more points on a fast break layup 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 as 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 Panthers didn’t miss one foul shot throughout the game as they were 15 of 15 from the free throw line.
Dillon led the Panthers in scoring with 16 points. He only shot 30 percent from the floor but made 9 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.
“I didn’t think we came out very focused in the first half,” Coach May said. “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 is scheduled to host Midland Trail on Wednesday in the Class A co-regional final at 7 p.m. Midland Trail lost to Fayettteville 74-54 on Friday night in its sectional title game.
Van also advanced into the regionals as well and will travel to play at Fayetteville.
(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)