This is the 21st of 22 stories counting down the top 22 games in Robert Sanders career as head boys basketball coach at Vidalia High.
Sanders retired at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
Sanders began coaching at Vidalia in 1991 and compiled a 476-336, advancing to the state championship game in 2009 before leading the Vikings to the Class 3A state championship in 2010.
At No. 2 is Vidalia’s state championship win over Carroll at the Cajundome in Lafayette on March 12, 2010.
And while not at the top of the list,
Sanders called it the most memorable and most rewarding.
It was the first state championship for Sanders, and the first Class 3A state championship at Vidalia High. The Vikings won the Class 2A state championship in 1979 under Ken Simmons. That team was led by Mississippi State standout Kalpatrick Wells and Kelvin Mays.
After falling to Richwood in the Class 3A state championship game in 2009, Vidalia High was determined not to walk off the court as runners-up two straight years.
“We were all zoned in,” said senior forward Torrey Dixon. “This was our senior year and we knew the entire playoffs it was win or go home. No way any of us was going to except anything but winning. I was so into the game I didn’t ever remember the postgame celebration.”
“We just felt like nobody in Louisiana could beat us,” said Viking forward Gary Stewart. “We wanted to play Richwood again, but everybody from the bench to the starters were locked in.”
Vidalia shot 36.8 percent against Richwood in 2009. The Vikings shot an amazing 65.5 percent in the first half, while Carroll hi 42.3 percent.
The Vikings advanced to the finals by defeating Abbeville.
Carroll advanced by defeating Richwood for the third straight time that season.
Carroll’s Dashiell Franklin started off the game with a dunk.
“I was thinking about Richwood starting the game the same way the year before. ‘Oh, here we go again,” Sanders said.
But that was certainly not going to deter this Viking team.
Vidalia kept Carroll from converting any fast breaks in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs, with eight seniors on their squad, had six turnovers in the first three minutes and finished with 12 in the first half.
Gary Stewart hit the first of three 3-pointers (missing only one) with two seconds remaining in the first quarter to give the Vikings a 19-10 advantage after the first eight minutes of play.
Stewart hit a 3-pointer 30 seconds into the second period to extend the Viking lead to 22-10.
The Vikings hit 5-of-7 3-pointers in the first half.
A layup by Dixon and another 3-pointer from Stewart followed by a 3-poiner from Quan Riley increased the Viking lead to 33-12.
Thomas converted a 3-point play, Dixon slammed down a dunk and added a 3-pointer and Vidalia led 45-16 with 1:22 remaining in the first half.
Vidalia forced three quick turnovers in the third period and kept the pressure on the Bulldogs, leading 57-28 after two free throws by Stewart at the 4:16 mark.
A basket by Dixon after a quick pass from Eric Bell followed by a lay-up by Bell put Vidalia up 61-30. Dixon nailed a jumper with 14 seconds remaining to give Vidaia a 61-39 advantage after three quarters.
Sanders emptied his bench in the second half as the Vikings coasted to the win.
“I really thought it was going to be a much tougher game,” Sanders said.
Dixon, who was 8-for-11 against Richwood the previous year, was 11-for-13 against Carroll, giving him a 19-for-24 total in two state championship games.
Dixon finished with 25 points.
Dixon attended Baton Rouge Community College. One Saturday he was working out for LSU, but fell out during the workout. He was found to have a heart condition, which ended his playing career.
Thomas was 7-of-12 with 18 points while dishing out five assists.
Stewart was 5-for-10 from the field, scoring 17 points.
Stewart, who had a standout career at Northwestern State, was named Most Valuable Player of the game, but offered the trophy to Dixon, who handed it back.
“A lot of people asked me about that,” Dixon said. “It was one of those things where I could see the stat line on the top of the scoreboard and I saw his stats and knew he was more deserving. Plus, he had been scoring 25 to 30 points a game in the entire playoffs.”
Dixon was named Class 3A Player of the Year.
“I didn’t really didn’t care about recognition and awards,” Dixon said. “I just wanted to play ball.”
“I was really shocked when they call my name for MVP,” Stewart said. “I didn’t feel like I deserved it. But Torry got his just rewards in the end.”
i just ready to play ball. didn’t really awards
Stewart, who was Player of the year the previous year, was named to the first team, as well.
Vidalia averaged 86.8 points through five playoff games.
“I felt like the first team that relaxed and settled down would be successful,” said Carroll head coach Jesse Burnette. “Vidalia has a very good basketball team. They had dedicated this season to getting back there and finishing the job.”
“It was a blessing and an honor to be on the team with those guys,” Dixon said.