NEW PALESTINE — The New Palestine Dragons needed a spark on Tuesday night.
Down by as many as 11 points in the first half, senior Haley Stratman answered the call, igniting the slumbering Dragons’ offense en route to a 56-47 win and the first in nearly a decade against rival Mt. Vernon.
“We felt like we spotted them some points early. We weren’t really playing all that bad. We felt like if we worked our way back into it, maybe the shots would start to fall,” New Palestine head coach Brian Kehrt said. “Haley Stratman struggled in the first half, but I told her at halftime, I heard a voice, you’re going to hit some shots.”
New Palestine shot 25 percent in the first half before erupting for 63 percent in the third quarter. Stratman scored 17 points with nine during the Dragons’ third-quarter swing to propel her team.
Class 4A No. 18 Mt. Vernon entered the Hoosier Heritage Conference match-up with an 11-game winning streak against Class 4A New Palestine and hadn’t lost on the road to the Dragons since Dec. 14, 2006 in double overtime, 52-50.
The Dragons last beat the Marauders 49-34 on Dec. 13, 2007. Since the defeat, Mt. Vernon racked up four straight victories on New Palestine’s floor while commanding the series in the past 23 meetings with 20 wins during the past 15 years.
Despite key injuries to four starters and five players total, the Marauders (11-2, 2-1 HHC) led 9-0 to start the game and held a 22-18 advantage at halftime.
With Ariana Sandefur, Megan Gawrys and Shelby Case all sidelined, senior Sydney Shelton carried the offensive burden, scoring a game-high 28 points with eight rebounds and five steals.
Hardly at 100 percent with a lower-leg muscle injury suffered in Saturday’s game against Yorktown, Shelton scored 10 points in the first half while noticeably limping.
“Sydney is on the floor, but she’s probably 70 percent, maybe,” Mt. Vernon head coach Steve Doud said. “She’s still our leader, and she came out and did the best she could with the wheels she had.”
Shelton, a Butler signee, needed only 394 points this season to overtake Greenfield-Central’s Ellen Hamilton (1,885 points), a 2002 graduate, as the county’s all-time leading scorer in girls basketball history.
After tonight she has 324 points this season and 1,815 in her career.
The Dragons, however, were able to counter Shelton’s gritty production with three players in double figures, including Stratman.
The Dragons tied the game 22-22 early in the third quarter behind a clutch Raegan McMurray layup. Carly Hackler cut the deficit 25-24 with a jumper after a 3-pointer from Hanna Johnson, who finished with 13 points.
From there, the Dragons stormed out to a 20-3 run with two momentum-swinging 3-pointers from Stratman and nine points in the frame.
McMurray had 17 points on the night and Natalie Kehrt chipped in 16 points.
New Palestine’s (7-4, 3-2 HHC) built a 13-point lead with 5:14 left in the game, but the margin shrank to three points two minutes later as Shelton hit a pair of deep 3-pointers and a runner.
A putback by Sadie Baugh made it a one-possession game 43-40, but the Marauders wouldn’t get any closer as New Palestine iced the final three minutes with a 13-7 run.
New Palestine was a perfect 6-0 at home before HHC foe Greenfield-Central beat them 54-38 last Friday. Prior to the loss, Kehrt’s squad won five of six games.
Mt. Vernon carried a four-game winning streak into tonight’s game, remaining unbeaten in the HHC until tonight with key victories against Pendleton Heights, 70-61, and Yorktown, 31-27.
The Marauders host the No. 20 Class 4A North Central Panthers on Saturday. New Palestine travels to Yorktown on Saturday.