RICHMOND — The echoes of that game more than 30 years ago were all around.
Hancock County residents drove some 60 miles Saturday to Richmond, Indiana, to see the first Mt. Vernon-New Palestine sectional final since 1983. And just like in 1983, the Mt. Vernon Marauder fans were the ones who were driving home happy on Saturday night, as the Marauders defeated arch-rival New Palestine, 60-57, for their 13th sectional championship and first playing in class 4A.
Overlooking the throng of fans and youth basketball players on the court cutting down the nets, Mt. Vernon coach Travis Daugherty couldn’t help but smile.
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“I’m just so happy for our players, for their parents and for all these fans to be able to enjoy this,” Daugherty said. “We’ve had a rough year in losing some games we thought we could win, so to come out and win this makes it all better.”
The Marauders raced out of the gate to an 8-0 lead, but then both defenses dug in. The halftime score was only 19-15 in favor of Mt. Vernon, despite the evident intensity both teams brought to the hardwood.
In the third quarter, the Marauders’ defense continued that intensity and held New Palestine to six points in the quarter, while breaking out on offense to build an 11-point lead heading into the final quarter.
“I really think we won the game tonight because of our defense,” Daugherty said. “The first half, both teams, I think, were struggling with the moment, offensively, but our defense really gave us a chance to win it since our offense wasn’t clicking.”
The Marauders lead reached as high as 13 in the fourth quarter, and the lead sat at 11 with three minutes remaining. That is when the Dragons’ comeback effort kicked into high gear.
Dragons coach Trent Whitaker asked his players to press full court.
“This is the sectional championship game,” Daugherty said. “I knew they weren’t going to just roll over and not come after us.”
After scoring eight, seven, and six points in the first three quarters respectively, the Dragons scored 36 points in the fourth quarter. With the press resulting in timely turnovers, and the Marauders fouling three-point shooters twice, the Dragons got the lead down to just three points with 15 seconds remaining.
Unfortunately, for the Dragons, the game ended just like it began: with Damari Gatewood.
After sinking two threes in the first quarter to give Mt. Vernon an early lead, his steady play forced the Marauders to focus on him and allow his teammates to shine. But it was Gatewood who calmly sank two free throws after the ensuing in-bounds with 12 seconds remaining that sent Mt. Vernon to the regional. Gatewood would finish with 14 points and three rebounds.
While Mt. Vernon was celebrating, New Palestine was coping with the end of another season and the impending graduation of an inspirational teammate.
“To lose a guy like Gavin Hausz is rough,” an emotional Whitaker said. “He has been such an inspirational teammate, three ACL tears in six years, and to come out tonight and all season like he has, its just tough to lose.”
On the flip side however, Hausz is the only graduating senior. So Whitaker believes the future is bright for this Dragons program.
With the victory, Mt. Vernon plays Saturday at the regional in Southport against Terre Haute South at 10 a.m.
The winner of that game will play either Warren Central (No. 1 in 4A) or Ben Davis (defending 4A state champions) at 8:00 p.m.