VANDALIA – The Vandalia Butler girls basketball team prepared for the day it would hold up a league championship trophy. From the long practices to the film sessions and right down to cutting down the nets to “We Are The Champions,” they were ready to touch that trophy Saturday.
“It’s been ridiculous the amount of work we’ve put in as a team,” said junior guard Sami Bardonaro.
Even if the Aviators didn’t seem ready for this day in the first half when they fell behind by 14 points, Bardonaro knew she and her best friends weren’t going to let Tippecanoe spoil the day.
The Aviators rallied in the second half behind Bardonaro’s 13 fourth-quarter points to beat Tipp 45-39 and secure at least a share of the Miami Valley League Miami Division crown.
“It means so much because these girls are my best friends,” said Bardonaro, who scored 22 points. “We’re literally a family. We hang out all the time, so it means 10 times more winning it with them.”
The Aviators (18-3, 15-3) are league champs for the first time since sharing the GWOC North title with Troy in 2012. And it’s Troy they will likely share a title with again. The Trojans (14-7, 14-3) finish their season Tuesday at home against Stebbins, a team the Trojans beat 50-23 in December.
Molly Bardonaro, Sami’s aunt, took over the program at her alma mater eight years ago with a goal of building a program that could compete for league titles. After twice finishing second to Tipp, which hadn’t lost a league game since the MVL reformed in 2019 until this season, the Aviators can add 2022 to their banner.
“It started with that first team, and we just talked about setting a foundation,” Molly Bardonaro said. “And each year each kid was a brick to that foundation and another layer, another layer. Just a lot of buy-in into what we were trying to establish and build. The last couple years we’ve seen it all come together, but every group that I’ve had has played a part in it.”
Tipp (11-10, 10-8) took a 23-9 lead on consecutive easy drives to the basket by Madison Moran and Makenzie Chinn, who led Tipp with 12 points. Then the Aviators began to chip away with free throws and trailed 23-14 at halftime.
“At halftime we came out and we were like we’re not losing this game,” Sami Bardonaro said. “We are not letting this team beat us. The amount of work we’ve put in is crazy, and we weren’t going to let it go to waste.”
Evan Neely, the Aviators 6-foot senior center who scored 15 points and blocked several shots, hit a 15-footer to start the second half and the comeback was on. Bardonaro’s layup cut the deficit to 28-27 at the end of three quarters. After Bardonaro got whacked in the nose going to the basket three minutes into the fourth, she made two free throws for a 33-32 lead that her team did not relinquish.
At a timeout between the free throws, Bardonaro got a piece of cotton shoved up her nose to stop it from bleeding. “I feel like it’s what a COVID test feels like,” she said. She kept making free throws and finished the quarter 8 of 9 and the game 10 of 13.
“She’s got that edge to her and she just takes over, but they all battled back,” Molly Bardonaro said. “They didn’t quit, they were on the floor, they were all over.”
Molly Bardonaro watched her niece grow up playing basketball, and she’s happy to have her leading her team. The niece has broken the aunt’s 3-point records for most in a game, season and career.
“Watching her knock off my records one at a time has been cool,” Molly Bardonaro said. “I love it and wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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