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When Velma-Alma senior Conner Sullivan hit a halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer to trim Glencoe’s lead, the Panthers, who had gone 57-1 in the last 58 games had to be thinking “oh no, here we go again.”
That one loss was handed to them by the Comets in last year’s area tournament. This year, there would be no repeat, with Glencoe pulling away late to win 83-69 Thursday.
No. 14 Velma-Alma (21-7) put a scare in them anyway, hitting everything in the first half. Senior Jaz Gayanich went 4 of 5 from behind the arc and there wasn’t too much going in for the No. 2 Panthers (27-0). They were relying heavily on their offensive rebounds to hold their lead and, with just a 56-50 lead at the end of the third quarter, the game was still up for grabs.
The collapse came quickly to open up the fourth quarter. With 7:28 left, Sullivan picked up his fourth foul. Less than a minute later, there was a scuffle in which a Glencoe player grabbed a rebound and elbowed sophomore Jake McGuire in the face. The Velma-Alma bench went livid, but there was no whistle.
Glencoe pushed the ball up the floor and, with 6:59 left, Alan Beck was called for his fourth foul when he looked like he had tied up a Glencoe attacker. It was a devastating blow, as Beck had been guarding Glencoe’s best player, Ty Lazenby, all game.
“Alan has been our best defender all year,” coach Kenny Bare said. “That hurt Alan a little bit because he backed off some. When you get four fouls, you know if you foul out again, you’re out.”
It showed on the court with Lazenby following up a two-point performance in the third quarter with a 12-point fourth. He didn’t miss a single shot in the final period after missing nine in the first three quarters.
“He knows how to use his body and he had a big game for them,” Bare said. “He can weave his way through people and is really good at body contortion. We couldn’t keep in front of him.”
For the Velma-Alma senior class of Gayanich, Beck and Sullivan, it was the third consecutive state tournament appearance. Gayanich was the lone returning starter from last year’s team, which graduated eight seniors.
Not much was expected out of this year’s edition. Bare even admitted after the game that some of the players might not have thought this team was capable of achieving a state tournament berth. For Gayanich, being able to go toe to toe with one of Class A’s best teams in the state quarterfinal was special.
“It means that we proved everybody wrong,” Gayanich said. “It means that you can’t doubt us with coach Bare being the coach. You can’t doubt any team that he coaches.”
With only three seniors leaving, Beck thinks the future is bright. Sophomore Ryan Ross and junior Kelton Brown logged critical minutes in the quarterfinal game, combining with McGuire to give the team a young nucleus coming back.
“They’ll step up next year,” Beck said. “Losing three seniors, people will step into those spots.”
Bare said, with just three seniors on the team, he really didn’t know where the potential of this team was. He knew Gayanich could score, which he did, finishing as the leading scorer and adding 21 Thursday to that tally.
He said Sullivan’s scoring came out of nowhere, though. With 27 points, Sullivan was the Comet’s leading scorer Thursday afternoon, and he provided consistent offensive output for the team all season.
As far as Beck’s performance in 2013-14, Bare was a little overwhelmed.
“All coaches would love to coach kids like Alan Beck,” Bare said. “He played his guts out, guarded the best player every night. He was our second-leading rebounder and there’s no reason he should have been other than his heart and determination. I’m very proud of our three seniors.”