RICHMOND — With 1.6 seconds left on the clock on Friday night, Connersville head coach Kerry Brown pulled his starters.
A few feet away, Mt. Vernon’s Peyton Meadors, who was waiting to sink a pair of decisive free throws, cracked a smile.
Finally. After three straight overtime losses, including seven bonus periods overall, the Mt. Vernon Marauders achieved what they believed all along, and they did it in regulation.
Mt. Vernon upset the defending Class 4A Sectional champion Connersville Spartans 55-49 to advance into the championship game at 7:30 p.m. tonight when they will face county rival New Palestine for the title.
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The Marauders will attempt to capture their first sectional title since 2013 and first in 4A against the Dragons. The two programs haven’t met in the finals since 1983.
“There’s nothing better,” Meadors said after his team’s semifinal win during the Richmond Sectional at the Tiernan Center. “We worked so hard all week. They’re a great team, so finally, after the fourth time, it feels good.”
It was a collective effort for the Marauders, who had three players reach double figures. Meadors finished with 16 points and six rebounds, while senior Damari Gatewood had a game-high 17 points and six boards.
Keith Rupert provided 12 points off the bench as the Marauders built a 10-point lead in the third quarter and fended off the Spartans’ late charge.
A key to the victory, Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty voiced, was on the offensive and defensive glass where the Marauders out-hustled the Spartans 33-19.
“I really thought the rebounds were an area we could control,” Daugherty said. “They’re not real big but they’re aggressive, so I knew it was going to take us matching their effort and aggressiveness. I thought we did that the entire night. That number is a reflection of our toughness.”
Their composure was mirrored their unity and patience.
Holding the Spartans to 14 free-throw attempts, the Marauders kept Connersville from easy points, their forte the past few seasons.
Down 12-11 to Connersville, the Marauders jump ahead 20-14 behind a 9-2 run in the second quarter sparked by Gatewood and Rupert. The duo combined for all 15 of the Mt. Vernon’s points in the frame.
In the third, Meadors took his turn, scoring 12 points to propel the Marauders in front 43-33.
“Those guys made huge plays, and that made me want to play even harder,” Meadors said. “It’s a huge effort from all of us.”
The Spartans tried to rally back in the final eight minutes, cutting their deficit 48-44 with a 9-3 swing led by Garrett Silcott, who had a team-high 17 points.
The Marauders lead fell to 48-46 after a Silcott jumper with 1:15 remaining, but the Marauders turned the tables by converting 5 of 6 free throws in the final 49.6 seconds, sandwiched around a transition bucket by Gatewood.
“We know they’re a great team, and we knew they were going to make a run,” Meadors said. “It was how we were going to overcome that adversity? We did a great job staying together.”
Meadors buried the final points of the game as the Marauders faithful in the stands drown out the Spartans fans who packed the stands in red.
“This group has done it right and stuck together even when things got tough,” Daugherty said. “Tonight, was, I think, a reward for their perseverance. But as much fun as this was, this is just step one for us.
“We have ourselves in position to do what we really want to do (in the finals).”
The Marauders will attempt to capture their first sectional title since 2013 and first in 4A when they play the Dragons. The two programs haven’t met in the finals since 1983.