RICHMOND — New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker couldn’t resist crunching the numbers.
Minutes after his Dragons eliminated host Richmond in the Class 4A Sectional semifinals 68-50 at the Tiernan Center on Friday night, a confidant came over and dropped some trivia knowledge.
“The last time we’ve played Mt. Vernon in the finals was 1983,” the Dragons supporter told Whitaker.
Taking a minute to let the gears grind, Whitaker quipped, “I was like 7.”
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Tonight will be retro night, indeed, and Whitaker has no doubt his Dragons, who are trying to chase down their first sectional title since 2012 will be ready.
“This is a Hancock County final, an (Hoosier Heritage Conference) final and we’re going to come to Ohio to play it,” Whitaker joked. “That’s kind of interesting.”
Since their 71-56 first-round sectional win Tuesday, the Dragons don’t appear to mind the long bus ride toward the Ohio-Indiana line, and they showed it with a convincing win against Richmond.
Matthew True buried the game’s first bucket in the first minute and the Dragons never looked back as New Palestine was led by three double-digit scorers.
True posted a game-high 19 points, while Dylan Romine had 16 points. Maximus Gizzi provided 13 points, and Dawson Eastes and Gavin Hausz nearly joined them with nine points apiece.
“Our kids are doing a nice job of knowing their role, playing together and moving the basketball,” Whitaker said. “It was nice to see we had three guys in double figures. That’s kind of what we’ve done the past few weeks and why we’re on a roll.”
The Dragons’ lead grew to 10 points in the first quarter and even when the Red Devils tried to claw back, New Palestine had an answer.
At halftime, the Dragons were in front 32-26 and watched their advantage shrink to 36-33 midway through the third, but a 10-2 run pushed the margin to 51-41.
“Poise has been the word this week, and our kids have definitely met that. Honestly, they continue to do a great job at point in time during a game,” Whitaker said. “They did a nice job of hanging in there.”
Execution from the foul line was crucial. The Dragons were 24 of 33 from 15 feet out and out-rebounded Richmond 28-19.
Now, they have a chance to win their fifth straight game and possible the program’s eight sectional title all time.
“We’re very excited. That was our goal this year to make it here and compete,” True said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we played every minute as hard as we could.”
New Palestine’s 15-win mark is the best the team has posted since 2012-13 and is the first sectional title game appearance since 2015. The last time Mt. Vernon and New Palestine met in the finals was at the Greenfield-Central Sectional. Tonight’s postseason meeting will be the schools’ first since 2007 and 13th sectional showdown.
Mt. Vernon defeated New Palestine 76-66 during the regular season on Feb. 16 at home.
“They’re a good team, and they beat us earlier in the season,” True said. “They have some good players. We just need to stick to our game plan and try to compete with them.”