FORTVILLE — Finally.
On Thursday night, no other word could describe how Mt. Vernon senior Sydney Shelton felt, standing on the court alongside her teammates — her friends.
For the first time since fortune turned its back on the Mt. Vernon girls basketball team in late November, the Class 4A Marauders’ starting five were in uniform, together.
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The past few months, it became customary for them to see each other in passing, en route to the trainer’s room or on the sidelines. With Shelton back on the floor at point guard, and every starter previously injured back, the Marauders (15-8, 3-4) were whole again and handed visiting Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Delta a 60-40 loss on senior night.
“It felt really good to be back on the court, playing again, with my team, doing what I love,” said Shelton, who sat out five games with a dislocated fibula.
“I wanted to be back for this game. I didn’t want to sit out this one, it’s something you remember and a time to honor the class of 2016. It was a big deal.”
The timing couldn’t have been any better, especially with the Sectional 9 tournament set to start Tuesday on the Marauders’ home floor.
Drawing Connersville in the first round, a team the Marauders beat earlier this year 47-13 on Nov. 13, finding a rhythm has been a priority for the regrouping Marauders, and though rough at times, they caught glimpses at Delta’s expense.
Mt. Vernon senior Ariana Sandefur, in her fourth game back from an injury that robbed her eight weeks, set the pace with a game-high 23 points as the team’s five seniors were spotlighted during pregame.
The IU Southeast recruit shot 6 of 12 from 3-point range and scored 13 points in the second quarter alone.
Sandefur, who was part of the 2013 Class 3A state title team along with Shelton, hit two of her treys during the Marauders’ decisive 17-2 run in the first half.
The guard had eight points in one stretch and with a putback off a Shelton missed jumper in the second quarter she gave Mt. Vernon a 23-7 lead.
A 13-2 run in the third quarter guided by Shelton put the game away for the Marauders, which had carried a two-game losing streak into the night.
Mt. Vernon has lost four of its past five games before extending its winning streak against Delta (4-18, 0-7) to eight games.
Their recent record was a stark contrast to the program’s start to the season.
In November, the Marauders opened 7-0 and won 11 of their first 12 games. The victories continued despite five of the team’s top seven succumbing to various injuries through the next two months.
“Having Sydney back brings stability,” Mt. Vernon head coach Steve Doud said. “She’s our ball handler, bad leg or not, she can handle it. She’s our point guard. That’s part of the reason we were out of sync with her gone.”
Beyond senior Chelsea Ford, who is out with an anterior cruciate ligament tear, Shelton was the last to return, following senior Sadie Baugh.
The latter was competing in her second game and provided seven rebounds and four steals.
Shelton had four assists and 15 points, hitting her first bucket to snap a 0-for-5 start before finding a groove in the second half.