FORTVILLE — Before the season started, Mt. Vernon boys basketball coach Travis Daugherty and his coaching staff presented their players with a three-pronged goal.
So far, they’ve responded by going 2-for-2.
First, the Marauders claimed the Lion Classic title in Rushville in December. Last Friday, the team checked off another one by capturing the program’s first Hoosier Heritage Conference title since 2010.
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Their quest continues Friday in the semifinals of the New Castle Sectional where they look to achieve something never before realized.
“Heading into the season, we really focused in on the opportunity we had to win three championships,” Daugherty remarked on his Marauders’ preseason aspirations. “The Rushville tournament (on Dec. 30) was a great one-day success, and the conference championship really represents more sustained success over the course of the year.”
A potential first sectional title in Class 4A would thrust them back into elusive territory, not witnessed since the team’s jump up from Class 3A in 2013.
At 18-4 on the season (and 6-1 in the HHC), the Marauders carry their best record in four years, when the team finished 24-2 as a Class 3A regional champion in 2012-13.
Overall, Mt. Vernon has won 12 sectional titles, with three in Class 3A (1999, 2010, 2013), but haven’t found a way to get past their first Class 4A postseason game the past two years.
By winning their third HHC championship in the past 20 years with a 62-26 drubbing of Yorktown, Daugherty said he believes the Marauders are ready to change the trend.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about and emphasizing for a long time,” Daugherty remarked on Mt. Vernon’s shared HHC title with New Castle. “It’s not something our kids have ever done and not something many teams at Mt. Vernon have done, so it’s a major highlight to this year.”
It also provided a confidence boost at an ideal time.
Mt. Vernon opened the season 3-0 and cruised to an 8-1 record before losing to New Castle, 55-54, on Jan. 2. From there, they put together an eight-game winning streak and lost just three times total until last Tuesday at Westfield, 50-37.
Embarrassed by their lackluster effort in their road loss to the Shamrocks, the Marauders were humbled but hardly bewildered.
Instead they re-evaluated and went back to basics, namely team ball.
“I think anytime you find yourself in a tough spot like that you got to try to find some value in it,” Daugherty said. “If it doesn’t make you any better, then I’m not sure what purpose it has.”
If there is a secret to the Marauders’ prosperity in 2015-16, said Daugherty, it’s unselfishness, and the proof is in the numbers.
Mt. Vernon’s five starters are averaging nearly eight or more points per game each and thrive when “they share the ball.”
Junior point guard Michael Ertel, who buried the game-winning shot to secure the team’s first goal against Mooresville, 51-50, leads the team with 15.8 points on average.
However, he excels most at finding the open man with a team-best 3.7 assists per game.
The front court trio of 6-foot-6 junior Erick Shepherd (13.2 ppg), 6-5 junior James McCloud (7.9 ppg) and 6-5 senior Michael Thompson (8.8 ppg) have feasted off Mt. Vernon’s team-first emphasis.
Senior guard Miles Wayer, who erupted for a team-high 19 points against Yorktown, makes the Marauders difficult to contain when the starting five is firing simultaneously.
Which they will need to do, according to Daugherty, despite drawing the luxury of a first-round bye at sectional.
At 3-1 against the Sectional 9 field, Mt. Vernon is one of five teams with winning records and one of four .500 or better in previous meetings against each other.
“The beauty of the sectional at New Castle is the parity of all six teams. I think anybody can beat anybody,” Daugherty said. “We have to continue to be sharp. Nobody is going to hand us anything or give us something because of what we’ve done previously. We have to control what we can control, and that’s us.”
The Marauders will play in the sectional semifinals against either Pendleton Heights or New Castle at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The sectional championship game is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Defend the Shield
No., Name, Pos., Ht.
• Stats: 15.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.1 spg
• Stats: 9.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
• Stats: 7.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
• Stats: 8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.4 apg
• Stats: 13.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
# varsity starter