For the first time since 2009, Vermilion can once again call itself Division II boys basketball district champions.
The fifth-seeded Sailors took it to the No. 2 seed in the Div. II Westlake District in Saturday night’s district championship at Westlake High School, jumping out to an early 8-point lead.
That lead swelled to 13 points midway through the third quarter before the Green Wave fought back to tie it with 4:33 remaining. However, the Sailors used a 15-4 run down the stretch to pull away for a 58-47 upset victory.
Vermilion (19-7) advances to the Division II regional semifinal Thursday at Bowling Green’s Stroh Center, where it will meet Norwalk (25-1) at 6:15 p.m. Holy Name’s season ends at 18-6.
“Our kids, over the last couple of seasons, have put ourselves in that situation a lot, and they’ve always responded,” Vermilion coach Kurt Habermehl said. “We weren’t really panicking about it. We needed to get Kyle (Nader) back on the floor, and luckily, we were able to hold them off a little bit until he returned. And, once he was out there, good things happened.
“These kids are really close and they’ll do anything for each other, and I’m just super proud of them. And I have to thank these people in the stands. They show up every night. They’re unbelievable. They support this team more than we know. We’re really proud of our fans and our students. It was great to win this for them.”
Kuhn, who has had numerous huge performances during his team’s postseason run, had another one Saturday night. Kuhn led all scorers with 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, and his layup with 4:12 left broke the 43-all tie and kicked off his team’s game-winning run.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I saw Vermilion come here and win (the district title) in 2009,” Kuhn said. “I wanted to experience this for myself and my friends, and to finally accomplish this and get back to the regionals as seniors is an amazing feeling.
“The key is trust in my teammates. If I’m hot, they’re going to get me the ball and if one of them is hot, I’m going to get them the ball," he added. "This is a great team and I love all of them. I couldn’t have these types of performances without them.”
Kuhn scored 14 in the first half and added 10 during the third quarter. His layup with 4:07 remaining in the third gave the Sailors their biggest lead of the night, 36-23.
“Cameron’s unbelievable,” Habermehl said. “He was facing double- or triple-teams all night and not only does he score 31 points, but he finds his teammates for easy baskets, too.”
Nader added 13 to give Vermilion two scorers in double-figures. Eight of his points came during the second half, and his two free throws with 30.9 seconds remaining gave the Sailors an insurmountable 55-47 lead.
“Kyle’s a gamer,” Habermehl said. “He’s our most vocal leader. He expects a lot out of himself as he does from every single guy on this team.”
The Sailors opened up a 16-8 first quarter lead and had it cut it slightly to 25-19 at the half. The Green Wave was forced into 13 first-half turnovers — eight in the first quarter — and shot just 9-of-17 from the floor.
“We really wanted to get out to a fast start, because Holy Name runs their offense too well and playing catch-up with them may have been difficult and we might have been in a little bit of trouble,” Habermehl said. “So, I thought we did a really good job of coming out of the locker room ready to play.
“We press — that’s just what we do. If you look at our team, you probably don’t expect us to press for an entire game, but that’s what they do. They’re conditioned for it and they do a great job.”
After Vermilion opened up the second half with an 11-4 run to take a 13-point lead, Holy Name seemed to snap itself out of its game-long doldrums.
Taking advantage of nine third quarter Sailor fouls, the Green Wave slowly but surely began to claw its way back into this game. Going 12-for-12 from the line — 11-for-11 in the second half — the Green Wave outscored Vermilion 14-6 to end the third quarter, which cut the deficit to 42-37, and 6-1 to start the fourth quarter to tie the score at 43.
“I thought in the first half (Vermilion) was the more aggressive team,” Holy Name coach Jeff Huber said. “They hurt us all night rebounding the ball. We did not do a good job rebounding and we gave up a lot of offensive boards. Also, offensively, they kind of got us on our heels. We made some careless turnovers in the first half.
“We kind of readied ourselves for that second-half run, but I don’t know if we used up all our energy to get the game back to even or what. (The Sailors) steadied themselves and made the plays they needed to win the game, so the credit really goes to them.”
Habermehl took a moment from the celebration to look ahead to the regional semifinal and the state-ranked Truckers.
“We actually know a lot about (Norwalk),” Habermehl said. “We played them a few times over the summer and, obviously, they’re an extremely well-coached team. They’ve got two kids in Ben Haraway and Jeff Thomas who are 1,000-point scorers, so they’re going to be a load for anybody.”