by Larry Austin
The Section VI playoffs brought out the best in the Grand Island boys basketball team as the Vikings won their first home game of the season with a dramatic late rally.
GI beat visiting Lake Shore 64-63 Tuesday in a prequarterfinal game thanks to a jump shot in the lane by Steve Vitello with 14 seconds left. The Vikings had trailed the Eagles 41-31 at halftime. Vitello had 35 points to lead all scorers.
The season came to an end Wednesday night in the quarterfinals at Sweet Home in a 78-53 loss to the Panthers. Vitello had 24 points in defeat, while Dylan Kelly had 11, all in the first half. GI's season recorded finished at 3-17.
"This is probably the best win I've ever had playing sports my whole life because I'm a senior, this is our one and only win on our home floor, and winning at home always feels better than anything else," Vitello said after the Lake Shore game. GI trailed much of the game and didn't take the lead until Josh Miller's layup drive into the lane put them up by a point. A hoop by the Eagles' John Andrew put the visitor's ahead by a point before Vitello scored the game's last bucket with a turn-around jumper in the lane from 12 feet.
"Nothing could be better. It's a great way to leave Grand Island," he said of winning in dramatic fashion.
"He was incredible. I am so happy for that kid," GI coach Nate Beutel said of Vitello. "Tonight we needed to do everything and more and he came through big time."
"That's a clutch shot. That's what a leader does, that's what a senior does, that's what a primetime All-League type of player does."
Beutel also praised the defensive effort in the second half, which saw the Eagles, who drained nine three-point shots in the first half, held to 22 points and one trey in the second half.
The team carried over the intensity into its game at Sweet Home and played what Beutel called one of their best quarters of the year in trailing 12-11 after one period. Beutel's decision last week to bring junior varsity players for the playoffs paid dividends, Vitello said, with increased intensity in practices.
"Everyone is playing on a whole different level and it definitely carried over into the game, and it's great to see it," Vitello said. "Everyone's playing as a unit versus as individuals."
The second quarter against the Panthers saw the return of a recurring Vikings' problem: turnover. GI gave up 31 points in the second quarter to let the game get away from them.
"The first half of that second quarter I don't think we got a shot off because their pressure was too great and we just couldn't handle it," Beutel said.
The loss marked the end for seven Vikings seniors.
"I told them I'm really proud of them, that they made my first year special," Beutel said. "The other kids, they pushed the seniors particularly over the last week, and I think that sparked us to the win last night and sparked us to a good effort at times tonight."