FORTVILLE — Kyle Ralph knows guts.
As head coach of the New Palestine football team, Ralph witnessed all sorts of athletic bravery last fall. The Dragons went 15-0, broke seemingly every single-game and season program record, plus a handful of state finals marks on the way to a Class 4A championship.
They did it sometimes with injuries, occasionally as underdogs, and always with courage.
But, Ralph has never witnessed anything quite like what he saw on a recent YouTube clip: Sydney Shelton’s 19-point fourth quarter against Richmond in the Sectional 9 basketball semifinal Feb. 13.
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“Maybe one of he most unreal performances I’ve ever seen,” Ralph said of the Mt. Vernon junior’s channeling of Reggie Miller. “Incredible. Great competitor.”
The Indiana Pacers legend recorded more than a few long-distance outbursts during his Hall of Fame career, and even he would likely be impressed by the distance from which Shelton launched her 3-pointers against Richmond.
Aiming to bring her team back from a 48-37 deficit to start the fourth quarter, Shelton knocked down five 3-pointers in the final quarter, only one of which came from just beyond the traditional 19 feet, 9 inch distance. Three of the 3’s came at or just behind the volleyball line, a solid 25 feet from the rim.
On her fifth 3-pointer, she brought one leg across the half-court line, set and shot. Nothing but net.
“I didn’t know I was at the half-court line,” a sheepish Shelton recalled this week. “I thought I was still at the volleyball line on that one. It was crazy, but I knew that’s what we needed to have a chance at winning the game. Do everything in my power to win. That was basically what I was thinking.”
Alas, Richmond made enough of its own clutch plays and hung on for a 69-63 win, trumping Shelton’s heroics.
“I’ve been training for those moments, all throughout the season,” said Shelton, the 2014-15 Hancock County Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the second straight winter.
“At the gym. At school. On my own. Before school.
“I just don’t like losing, and I feel like the older I get, the more I hate losing. I definitely hate losing more than I like winning.”
Shelton will take an unsatisfied feeling into a second-straight offseason. As a freshman, she scorched Hamilton Heights for 29 points to lead Mt. Vernon to the Class 3A state title at Indiana State University. Her sophomore campaign, however, ended as this one did: with a sectional loss.
The University of Kentucky commit and recently named Indiana Junior All-Star, Shelton aims to go out on top next season. It’s hard to imagine a better individual performance than she put together this year.
Shelton, a 5-foot-9 combo guard, led Hancock County in scoring at 22.5 points per game, capped by the 33-point tournament effort against Richmond. She also ranked first in the county in free throw shooting (87.4 percent), third in 3-point shooting (41.1 percent), assists (3.4 pg) and field goal shooting (50.4 percent) and fifth in steals (2.9 pg).
She became Mt. Vernon’s all-time leading scorer this season and, if healthy, will likely finish her prep career as Hancock County’s most prolific scorer of all time.
Her talent extends from basket to basket, according to New Palestine girls basketball coach Brian Kehrt.
“I have watched for several years, and the thing that I notice that few people talk about is how good she is on the defensive end,” he said. “Everyone knows about her offense, but she can play both ends of the floor.”
Offense. Defense. Whatever it takes, Shelton is prepared to do. It’s an all-out attitude that was on display against Richmond and will be ever-present in her final senior go-around.
“We were able to win state my freshman year, and I don’t even think in the moment I realized how big that was,” Shelton said. “I’m starting to really understand that now. I think the older you get, the more work you put in and you really desire that moment.”
Shelton’s goals for 2015-16 are twofold. In addition to the team success, at season’s end she wants to don a white uniform with red and blue trim, the number 1 across her chest. It’s the Indiana All-Star jersey designated for Miss Basketball.
“Ever since third grade, I’ve been wanting to be Miss Basketball,” she said. “Our class has a lot of really, really great players who I’ve been playing with and against all my life. So, I know it’s going to be really hard to get that. But, it’s what I’ll be working toward.”
By designating Shelton as a member of the Junior All-Star core squad, as opposed to a North or South Junior All-Star (each of the three units have six players), the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association has labeled Shelton, who will play for Spiece Indy this summer, as one of the state’s six best juniors.
The other five core members, and Shelton’s primary future competition for Miss Basketball (which goes to a senior), are Lindsey Corsaro of Roncalli (Kentucky commit), Ae’Rianna Harris of Lawrence North (Purdue), Tyasha Harris of Heritage Christian (undeclared), Kristen Spolyar of Lebanon (Butler) and Jackie Young of Princeton (Notre Dame).
It’s a heady group, and doesn’t include the numerous other talented juniors Indiana has to offer.
For most players, Miss Basketball is a long shot. Of course, long shots are Shelton’s specialty.
“If I do the possible, God will do the impossible,” she said.
In addition to the Hancock County Player of the Year title and the previously announced Indiana Junior All-Star and All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selections, Mt. Vernon junior Sydney Shelton picked up another accolade Wednesday with an All-State nod by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association. Shelton and Greenfield-Central sophomore Maddie Wise received the highest possible honor for a nonsenior: Underclass Supreme 15. The full team:
Camryn Buhr, Penn
Lindsey Corsaro, Roncalli
Dana Evans, Gary West
Ae’Rianna Harris, Lawrence North
Tyasha Harris, Heritage Christian
Holly Hoopingarner, Greenwood
Karissa McLaughlin, Homestead
Katelyn O’Reilly, Noblesville
Destiny Perkins, Richmond
Jayla Scaife, Muncie Central
Sydney Shelton, Mt. Vernon
Kristen Spolyar, Lebanon
Emily Sullivan, Evansville Memorial
Madison Wise, Greenfield-Central
Jackie Young, Princeton
To view Shelton’s 19-point fourth quarter against Richmond, Google “Sydney Shelton amazing 19 point fourth quarter.”