FORTVILLE — They’re not out of the Hoosier Heritage Conference race by any stretch, but Friday night’s league-opening loss didn’t do the Mt. Vernon Marauders any favors in their repeat quest.

Unable to find their shot the entire night, Mt. Vernon (2-3, 0-1 HHC) struggled to keep pace with the visiting Pendleton Heights Arabians and senior star Mark Albers, resulting in a tough 66-52 loss.

Albers finished with a game-high 31 points and nine rebounds as the Arabians beat the Marauders for the second time in three years behind 44 percent shooting from the field. Mt. Vernon defeated Pendleton Heights 69-55 last year en route to a share of the HHC crown.

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“I think for most of the night we played hard, but we just played bad. We didn’t make many plays. The advantages we had, we just didn’t ever really take advantage of,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “Once you get behind them and you’re chasing them and taking some risks, you leave guys open. Albers was fantastic from the beginning.”

Mt. Vernon senior star Michael Ertel did his part, scoring a team-high 21 points with a pair of steals and three rebounds. He buried a pair of 3-pointers and posted 12 points in the second half alone.

In the first half, Ertel, a Louisiana-Monroe recruit, worked in tandem with senior 6-foot-6 Erick Shepherd, tying the game three times before the Arabians took a narrow 23-21 lead into halftime.

Shepherd, who had 14 points and a team-best 15 rebounds knotted up the game at 15-all early in the second quarter, working the offensive glass with a putback shot off his own miss. He skied in the post with less than a minute remaining in the first half to tie the game at 21.

An Ertel layup in the first quarter past three defenders deadlocked the score at 11-all with 1:36 left in the frame, but in the second half, the shots stopped falling.

Mt. Vernon converted 11 of 31 attempts from the field and were 1 of 11 in the third quarter as Albers and the Arabians found a rhythm. Pendleton Heights shot 55 percent (6 of 15) in the third quarter and opened the half on an 8-0 run.

The 10-point lead grew to 14 points behind an 8-3 run, started and capped by Albers with a coast-to-coast layup off a defensive rebound and a baseline drive.

Albers sparked a decisive 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter with a wide-open 3-pointer and pushed the Arabians’ lead to 17 points with this third trey in a matter of four minutes.

“He hammered us early and when you’re trapping and switching trying to create turnover opportunities, guys get open. We weren’t sharp with the game plan. We gave them space and if you give a guy like that a chance to get into a rhythm, it makes it hard the rest of the night,” Daugherty said.

The 6-4 forward hit four 3-pointers and was 9 of 18 from the floor. During the Arabians’ run, sophomore Eli Pancol chipped in another 3-pointer, which gave Pendleton Heights four consecutive and a commanding lead.

Pancol posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Brandon Helpling had nine points and Karsten Windlen had seven points with five assists.

Mt. Vernon cut the deficit to nine points late in the fourth quarter, but their shooting issues cost them, going 19 of 54 from the field in the game and 6 of 22 from beyond the arc.

The Marauders lost the turnover battle 12-4 before the Arabians coughed up possession five more times late with the game already in hand.

“Of course, I want to win the conference, but first we need to learn how to play better,” Daugherty said. “We have a long way to go before the conference is decided, but we just have to play better. I thought Ertel was outstanding tonight, and not just statistically. But if he’s going to trust the other guys on the floor, the other guys have to deliver. We have to make more plays.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.