FORTVILLE — After a tumultuous regular-season filled with setbacks and injuries, the Mt. Vernon Marauders were ready to start fresh Tuesday night.
With their starting five on the floor for the opening tip, marking the first time since Nov. 20, they did just that, eliminating Class 4A Connersville handily 59-28 in the opening round of Sectional 9.
In her second game back after missing five straight, senior point guard Sydney Shelton scored a team-high 19 points, and the Marauders (16-8) ran out to a decisive 30-6 lead to win its second consecutive game.
“We all came out with so much energy, and we were ready and focused,” Shelton remarked on the team’s performance. “It’s sectional, our girls are going to come out pumped. It’s like a whole new season.”
The Marauders’ efficiency, especially on defense, appeared more throwback as the game wore on.
Overwhelming the youthful Spartans, Mt. Vernon forced 11 turnovers in Connersville’s first 17 possessions, fueling their transition game and their still regrouping offense.
Mt. Vernon shot 35 percent from the field overall and 40 percent (10 of 25) in the first half, building a 39-12 advantage by halftime.
“We really weren’t sure about our offense. We haven’t been together much, but we knew if we could just stick to our defense and work at it, create turnovers and get some extra possession, we knew our offense would take care of itself,” Mt. Vernon head coach Steve Doud said. “We wanted the lead early.”
On Nov. 13, the Marauders beat the Spartans 47-13 on the road, but that was before injuries sidelined all but one starter for extended periods of time this season.
Mt. Vernon’s regular-season finale last Thursday against Delta was the first time the team’s starting five were back on the court at the same time.
Introduced together prior to the opening tip, the quintet combined for 35 of the team’s total points.
IU Southeast recruit Ariana Sandefur finished with seven points, burying a pair of 3-pointers. Her second pushed the Marauders lead to 45 points midway through the third quarter.
Sophomore Sophie Williams contributed 13 points off the bench. Hanna Johnson had a team-high seven rebounds, and fellow starter Megan Gawrys grabbed six steals.
Connersville committed 25 turnovers compared to Mt. Vernon’s 18 (with six occurring after the starters sat with 5:30 left in the game).
Mikalia Taylor paced the Spartans with 14 points while Cheyanna Henry hauled in a team-high eight rebounds.
Shelton shot 4 of 9 from the field and was 3-for-8 from 3-point range. The Butler signee missed her first shot attempt, but she immediately followed it up by hitting her next four shots. She was 8 of 10 from the foul line.
Against Delta last week, Shelton had 15 points after a slow 0-for-5 start.
“She took what was there versus trying to force things to happen this time. I thought that was critical,” Doud said. “She had her shot, and it’s slowly getting back. We’ll need her shot the next game.”
The Marauders will face Richmond (8-13) next in the sectional semifinals Friday night at 6 p.m.
The Red Devils beat the Marauders 69-63 in the semifinals last year after Mt. Vernon bested them 73-40 in the regular season.
“It’s going to be a harder game. We’ve already played them and beat them (59-50 on Jan. 19), but there’s something about sectional. Every team gets better,” Shelton said.
“They’re going to bring it. Last year, we beat them by around 30 and then turned around and lost to them in sectional. We’re going to be as prepared as we can against them.”