FORTVILLE — The Mt. Vernon Marauders refused to lose Friday night. Down by as many as 11 points during regulation, the Marauders clawed back to force, not one, but four overtimes against visiting Connersville, but their rally simply ran out of time.
Needing an additional 16 minutes of bonus basketball, the Connersville Spartans (16-1) escaped with an 88-85 win, avenging last year’s 44-38 loss at the Spartan Bowl.
The win pushed Connersville’s current winning streak to eight straight as they improved to 5-0 against potential Sectional 9 foes, which includes Mt. Vernon (7-6).
Despite facing an uphill climb from the beginning, Mt. Vernon put their first-quarter struggles behind them quickly.
The Marauders trailed 22-12 after the first frame as Connersville shot a red-hot 80 percent from the field and knocked down 4 of 6 3-pointers. The Spartans’ lead remained at 10 though their shooting hands cooled at 33 percent from the field.
Down 30-20 at halftime, the Marauders ramped up their shooting percentage from 33 to 43 before intermission, then shortly after being crowned Winter Homecoming King, senior Michael Ertel closed the gap.
The Louisiana-Monroe signee hit four consecutive 3-pointers to open the second half, trading blows with Connersville’s senior-laden roster.
Ertel finished the night with 31 points and went 8 of 16 from beyond the arc to slice the Spartan’s lead to 44-39 in the fourth quarter.
A steal and a conversion by Ertel with 4:41 left in regulation kept the Marauders close at 48-43, which the point guard followed up with another 3-point dagger and a smooth jumper with 2:36 left to cut the deficit 50-48.
The Spartans responded to take a 56-50 lead and were up 62-59 with 15.7 seconds left before Mt. Vernon senior Erick Shepherd stepped up with a 3-pointer at the top of the key with 7.2 seconds. The deep ball was his fourth all season and forced the issue at 62-all.
Shepherd had 25 points and seven rebounds while senior James McCloud added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Connersville’s Garrett Silcott, who had 18 points, missed to key free throws in the waning seconds of regulation, sending the game to overtime.
Fouled out with 15.7 left in regulation, Ertel watched from the bench as the Marauders missed a chance to win in the first bonus round on a missed 3-pointer.
McCloud was the hero in the second overtime period with a pair of clutch free throws with 9.2 seconds remaining, tying the game at 70-all.
In the third overtime, Shepherd took control with an and-1 to put the Marauders up 74-71 with 2:30 left and hit a pair from the charity stripe with 1:45 remaining and Mt. Vernon up 76-73.
A 3-pointer from Beau Isaacs with 37 seconds on the clock tied the game at 80-all. Connersville nearly ran away in the third overtime as Grant Smith, who had 22 points, stole the ball in the final seconds but his layup attempt came after the buzzer.
With McCloud fouled out, the Spartans used the foul line to pull away, converting six 15-footers to build on their 82-81 lead.
Noah Belt had a team-high 23 points for Connersville. Isaacs added 18.