FORTVILLE — Just outside the Mt. Vernon locker room hangs a sign that reads, “Good luck in sectionals #MVstatebound.”
Friday night was clearly not where the girls basketball team thought its season would end. Not in the second round of their own sectional against a Richmond team they overwhelmed by 33 points more than a month ago.
But these were not the same Red Devils.
With the return of senior guard and second-leading scorer Mackenzie Taylor, the Richmond offense transformed from deflated to dynamic.
Behind Taylor’s dead-eye shooting at the lighting-fast Destiny Perkins — the state’s eighth leading scorer (23. 8 points per game) — Richmond stunned Mt. Vernon 69-63 during Friday night’s sectional semifinal in Fortville.
Richmond (19-6) will take on Connersville (14-11) in tonight’s sectional championship game at 7:30 p.m. The Spartans took down Anderson (6-18) in double overtime 51-49 in the first game of Friday night’s doubleheader.
The Marauders’ Sydney Shelton did her best to help stave off what for her team was the unimaginable, but her 19-point fourth quarter was not enough to overcome the deep hole the 4A No. 11 Marauders (21-3) had dug themselves in.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Mt. Vernon coach Steve Doud said afterwards. “The problem was when we came out in the third, those first three minutes determined the game. We tell those girls, every time we come out, those first few minutes will dictate the game. And in the first three minutes they jumped all over us.”
Mt. Vernon began the game much better than those three minutes, jumping out to a 6-0 run.
Their lead grew to 14-4 after Shelton connected a pair of free throws to finish out her 10-point first quarter. But that, Doud said, is where the Marauders fell into a false sense of security.
“It was easy the first few minutes,” Doud said. “All of our shots were falling. And the girls played like that was going to keep happening. They stopped swinging the ball around. They stopped looking for the best shot.”
And even worse, they let Perkins get going. After missing her first five shots of the game, including a pair of airballs — a fact the home crowd did not let her forget — the sophomore began to find her rhythm, and she quickly quieted the Marauder faithful.
She finished with 12 points in the quarter, and combined with Taylor’s nine — on 3-of-3 shooting — the two guards accumulated all of their team’s first-period points, as the Red Devils led 21-17 heading in the second quarter.
Mt. Vernon fought back, though, despite Shelton hitting the bench for the entirety of the quarter because of foul trouble.
Ariana Sandefur took the reigns from the junior phenom, as she dropped eight points in the period to help Mt. Vernon cut the deficit to two, 33-31, heading into the break.
The Red Devils responded by wreaking havoc in those crucial first few minutes of the third quarter that Doud talked about.
Richmond raced out to a 13-2 run, extending the lead to 46-33, and the Marauders never recovered.
Despite Shelton turning in the performance of a lifetime in the final period — 19 points on 7-of-7 shooting, including five 3s — they could not muster a comeback.
Late in the quarter, she fouled out and tearfully exited the court with a game-high 33 points.
Perkins finished with 25 points for Richmond, while Taylor had 21. The Red Devils are now 11-1 since Taylor returned to the lineup.
“(Those two guards) were the whole issues,” Doud said. “It was just (Perkins). We could have handled just her. But the problems was, because we had to watch out for the other one, that opened up the floor … and that’s where we really struggled.”
Notes: Connersville’s last sectional title was in 2013. … The Marauders had won nine games in a row heading into Friday. … Mt. Vernon will not advance to sectional title game for the first time in five seasons. … Mt. Vernon is now 2-1 against Richmond all-time. … This game featured two of state’s top 15 scorers. At No. 8 is the Red Devils’ Destiny Perkins (23.8 ppg) and at No.13, the Marauders’ Sydney Shelton (21.9). Perkins is the only underclassmen in the top 10.