FORTVILLE — The crowd began to stir as Ariana Sandefur walked up to the scorer’s table Tuesday night.
Once the Mt. Vernon senior stepped on the court, those in attendance greeted her with a standing ovation.
It had been nearly a nine-week journey for Sandefur and about five for teammate Megan Gawrys, who both suited up for the first time since succumbing to injuries this season.
It almost felt like opening night, Sandefur said.
In a way, she wasn’t exaggerating.
“I was extremely nervous. I’m still jittery now,” Sandefur remarked on her return from a substantial ankle injury, which occurred in the sixth game of the season.
“All the emotions came at once. Hitting my first three was indescribable.”
She hit more than one.
Burying 6 of 13 and finishing 7 of 14 from the field to post a game-high 20 points off the bench, Sandefur propelled the Marauders to victory 59-50 against the visiting Richmond Red Devils.
Though it was her first game back since Nov. 20 against Rushville, Sanderfur showed little rust, hitting four straight buckets after missing her first two attempts.
“Those first two shots were like my last nine weeks, trying to get back at it,” Sandefur said. “I was definitely worried about my shot because I had to do so much rehab, I really didn’t have a lot of time to get out there to shoot with my team. I was shooting all afternoon. After that first shot, I felt normal again.”
The offense followed her lead as the Marauders (14-6) built a 23-11 lead late in the second quarter behind Sandefur’s third trey of the game.
The Marauders had lost three of their past four games and five of their past seven with four of their starters out due to injuries the past two months at various times.
With Sadie Baugh still sidelined and senior Sydney Shelton sitting out her third consecutive game with a serious leg injury, Mt. Vernon needed the boost.
Sandefur, Gawrys and the lone mainstay in the starting five, Hanna Johnson, answered and ended the Marauders recent two-game losing streak.
Three Marauders scored in double figures with Johnson providing 14 points and six rebounds.
“Because (Hanna) has been the lone starter out there, she knows she’s had to do more,” Mt. Vernon head coach Steve Doud said. “It’s been that way over the last four weeks, so it’s increased her play. Now, she looks to score a little bit more than in the past. That’s just one more threat for us.”
Cameron McClure added 11 points while Sophia Williams hauled in a team-best 12 rebounds for the Marauders.
Mt. Vernon’s lead peaked at 15 points in the fourth quarter despite Richmond cutting the deficit down to six points after three frames.
Sandefur opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, which ignited the Marauders’ shooters. Rachel Camargo followed with a trey on the team’s next possession and McClure drained a third straight to keep the Red Devils at arms length.
“Her and Megan both had their first games back, which is progress,” Doud said. “It takes the pressure off of some of the others.”
Sandefur’s final 3-pointer with 1:51 left put the Marauders up 56-41, which gave a team on the mend all it needed to win.
“It’s a double-edged sword. Obviously, we’ve had the injuries, but we’ve had the chance to develop some kids, and now we’re a little bit more comfortable playing out there,” Doud said. “You don’t want the injuries, but you make the most of it, and these girls have.”