It turned out the Cougars had a lot of fight left in them and they needed every bit of it to secure a last second 61-59 win over the Wildcats.
Though a little sloppy out of the gates, both squads quickly settled into a rhythm on the offensive end, with each of North Putnam's five seniors getting in the scorebook in the opening quarter.
South Vermillion was quick to answer any scoring as the teams traded the lead six times early on, with the Cougars holding on to a slim 18-17 lead after one period of play.
North Putnam's offense stalled, however, in the second quarter. Jacob Lucas got the only four points the Cougars tallied in the period as the Wildcats continued to be efficient on offense.
The scoring drought allowed the visitors to take a 30-22 lead into halftime, and Cougar fans may have begun to envision a repeat of the previous day's game.
They would have no need to worry about that as the Cougars came out of the break and took the game to the Wildcats.
After a sluggish first minute in the third, the Cougars went to a smaller line-up and began to press the visitors all over the court, creating several turnovers, easy baskets and limiting the Wildcats to nine points in the quarter.
Retaking the lead at 36-35, North Putnam got some breathing space when Payne Stewart converted a four-point play after being fouled on a made three-point shot. The lead would grow to seven by the end of the quarter, with the hosts leading 46-39.
While South Vermillion was only 2-17 entering Wednesday's game, the two wins had come in the last three games they had played and their confidence didn't allow the Cougars to break the game open.
The hosts soon began to attack the basket less as the fourth quarter dragged on, and when they got opportunities to drive to the basket, the shots weren't falling frequently enough.
The lack of Cougar scoring hurt when South Vermillion's Dylan Reyher knocked down two three's to unsettle the home crowd with less than half the quarter remaining.
And after the Cougars couldn't connect at the free throw line, South Vermillion capitalized. Dylan Haltom's three pointer with 1:20 gave the Wildcats' their first lead since midway through the third quarter at 56-55.
A turnover soon after seemed to put the Cougars in a bind, but the Wildcats gifted the ball back and then fouled Stewart, who knocked down both free throws to give the Cougars the lead again at 57-56.
A steal by North Putnam and another foul from the Wildcats sent James Hedrick to the line with :37 left in the game, where he also knocked down both shots to give the Cougars a 59-56 advantage.
The final thirty seconds soon turned into a frenzied period when Reyher popped up to hit his third three pointer of the period with :17 left and tie the game at 59-59.
Immediately, the Cougars raced back down and when the Wildcats tried to double team Garrett Porter at midcourt, he slipped the ball to Hedrick, who drove to the baseline and put the ball in to give the Cougars a 61-59 lead.
But the Wildcats had nine seconds left and got two looks at the basket. Haltom missed a deep three pointer but the ball was caught by South Vermillion's Phillip Harpenau, who went up to tie the game with one second left.
Hedrick, however, had raced down the court and as Harpenau went up, came from the side and blocked the shot emphatically, sealing the win and nearly setting off an unpleasant post-game scene.
Having needed a few minutes to catch his breath, Cougar head coach Nathan Martindale was enthused about the win, though times like the second quarter still worry him.
"I think a lot of it is tiredness," he said. "We start getting careless with our defense and there was a couple of time where guys were in good position defensively and they reached in, trying to make that good play, and got called for a foul. You can't give the other team a lot of free shots."
When they could have given up at halftime, though, Martindale noticed there was a different feel to the Cougars in the locker room.
"I think they learned a lot from last night. You could see at halftime the attitude was different. Guys had the "refuse to lose" look where they were going to go out there and give everything they've got for as long as they've got. They buckled down and did whatever they needed to do to get the win," Martindale said.
Though they came out a little slow, Martindale got the Cougars to pick up the tempo and get back in the game.
"We knew that, besides (Reyher), they were shaky ball handlers, so we wanted to put the pressure on them and make this a full court game. We got some turnovers, some fast break points and got a seven point lead," Martindale said.
Martindale added that after the slow fourth quarter start, a time-out talk got them back into the game.
"With about five minutes to go, I told the guys we can run our offense, but let's not force anything. You don't want to get so passive that you're careless but you still want to run your offense all the way through. If we got good looks, I wanted us to stay aggressive," Martindale said.
"We missed a couple of free throws that let them back in the game, but we made them at the ultimate time, when it counted," Martindale added.
"Once they tied the game up, I made the decision not to call a timeout. I wanted to see what they would do, how they would react. When South Vermillion double-teamed the ball, I knew somebody had to be open and James was able to make the basket."
It was a fitting closing for the Cougars' five seniors, which included Stewart, Hedrick, Porter, Lucas and James Franklin. Martindale said their efforts will determine how well their sectional run is.
"This is a group I've had three years now. I've learned a lot from them. Hopefully they've learned a lot from me. This is a group of seniors that has the talent, the ability to really be something special here at North Putnam," Martindale said.
"We've got to bring the same effort, the same intensity, the same grit and determination that we did tonight. That makes up for a lot of the mistakes that go along with teams losing games. If you've got the will to win, you're going to give yourself a chance.
"I know Coach (Pat) Rady is going to be prepared for us. He's got a gameplan probably already set. We've looked at them a couple of times and we're working on ours. It's going to come down to who wants it more. These guys are going to buy into it and be hungry and ready to go," Martindale added.
"We're looking forward to getting some wins next week and getting on a little roll. I'm hoping this a momentum builder for us. But you can't say enough about these seniors. They've worked hard, and they earned this victory tonight."
At North Putnam
S. Vermillion 17 13 9 20 -- 59
North Putnam 18 4 24 15 -- 61
South Vermillion -- Reyher 19, Harpenau 12, Lawson 7, Vaughn 6, Haltom 5, Johansen 4, Craigmyle 4, Scott 2
North Putnam -- Hedrick 17, Stewart 15, Lucas 10, Franklin 9, Porter 4, Everts 4, Wiltermood 2
Next game: North Putnam plays Cloverdale at the South Putnam sectional Tuesday, starting at 6 p.m.