FORTVILLE — The Mt. Vernon Marauders haven’t forgotten how to lose. Instead, they’ve just learned how to win, and they did it again Thursday night.
Behind a game-high 23 points from junior guard Michael Ertel and 19 points from junior big man Erick Shepherd, the Class 4A Marauders wrapped up their seventh straight win, beating 2A Frankton 68-53 at home.
“This is all part of the process we’ve gone through over the past three years. With these individual guys and this team compared to where we were two or a year ago at this time compared to where we are now there’s been significant growth in a lot of areas,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said.
“Figuring out how to make plays and win games has been the most significant improvement for this team.”
The Marauders (15-2) haven’t lost since Jan. 2 on a buzzer-beater against Hoosier Heritage Conference foe New Castle, and coincidentally hadn’t won against Frankton since 2001.
Mt. Vernon buried the past quickly, racing out to a 28-12 lead in the second quarter before the Marauders built a 17-point margin in the second half.
Frankton came into to the game winners in six of its last seven games and had owned the series against Mt. Vernon by winning five in a row.
This time, however, the Marauders turned the tide with 57 percent shooting from the field, which has helped them remain one of 10 teams in the state with only two loses.
“We’re finding a rhythm and trying to find different ways to win,” Shepherd said. “I was trying to keep up our energy throughout the game.”
Shepherd set the tone in the first half, converting his first five shot attempts. He was 8 of 9 from the field and sank a pair of free throws to go with his team-high seven rebounds.
The Marauders carried a 30-16 lead into halftime as Frankton struggled with eight turnovers and 35 percent shooting versus Mt. Vernon’s man-to-man and half-court traps.
A 12-2 run by Mt. Vernon in the third quarter gave the Marauders a 16-point cushion. Back-to-back buckets by Ertel in the fourth pushed the Marauders’ advantage to 47-30 as he went on the offense.
“We’ve been talking about playing for each other and making moves to set each other up,” said Shepherd, who crammed home two thunderous dunks, including a tomahawk off a steal in the first quarter. “I know, (Ertel) talked about getting his assists in early before he started scoring. We feel we should put others first.”
Ertel dished out eight assists with six handed out in the first half. In the final 16 minutes, he scored 18 points with 15 in the final frame.
Frankton narrowed the gap 59-44 late in the fourth behind 10 of 13 efficiency from the foul line, but a Shepherd putback 6-0 run halted the rally.
Shepherd’s putback with 2:10 supplied the largest lead of the night at 19 points.
Mile Wayer and Michael Thompson both finished with nine points. James McCloud had six points for the Marauders. Wayer added four assists and a pair of steals while Thompson slammed home a dunk off a steal and buried a 3-pointer at the horn to end the first quarter.
Frankton’s Maurice Knight led the Eagles with 22 points. Patrick Spillman chipped in 11 points.
The Marauders winning streak is the longest of the season. The team won five in a row before their current run.
Mt. Vernon host 4A Noblesville on Saturday before traveling to No. 10 4A Lawrence Central next Saturday.
“It’s going to be a great time for us to see where we are at over these next few games,” said Daugherty whose team improved to 3-0 against 2A opponents. “For us, it’s about starting that steady climb toward the postseason and be as prepared as we can be.”