NEW CASTLE — A little over two months ago, Mt. Vernon split two games in the Hall of Fame Classic at New Castle, holding its own in a 48-37 loss to defending 3A state champion Greensburg before surprising then-4A No. 14 Evansville Harrison 70-53 in the consolation game.
The Marauders were at full strength and newly-confident, boasting an intriguing blend of youth and experience. First-year coach Travis Daugherty’s outfit appeared to be headed toward title contention at its first 4A sectional come March.
Tuesday night in the opening quarterfinal of Sectional 9, Mt. Vernon — playing on the very same floor that seemingly-budding squad impressed on in late December — fell 58-43 to 4A No. 7 Richmond, competing without many key components it had at the Hall of Fame Classic.
The Red Devils (20-2) move on to face Greenfield-Central (5-17) in Friday’s first semifinal.
Today at New Castle, Anderson (9-12) takes on Pendleton Heights (14-7) and Connersville (13-9) plays New Castle (8-12) in the two other quarterfinal contests. The victors face off Friday after Richmond-Greenfield. The championship game is Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
MV’s strange season reached its conclusion Tuesday. The Marauders (9-14) lost senior guard CJ Coleman to a five-game school rules violation in preseason, then lost the 1,000-point scorer and UNC-Greensboro commit for good — save for a minor cameo vs. New Palestine on Feb. 21 — to a broken ankle during a Feb. 8 defeat to Noblesville.
Post Zach Spears, an integral part of the 2012-13 regional champion squad, chose not to come out for the team this year and junior Dan Werner, averaging 8.6 points and 3.9 rebounds through 14 games, quit the squad following a Jan. 31 setback at Connersville. To top it all off, freshman forward Erick Shepherd (10.5 points, 5.8 boards) was lost for the season after 11 games due to academic reasons.
“I think any year there’s adversity — and there was certainly some for us this year — I think it presents opportunities for guys. I was really pleased with how the guys really tried to stay and fight and continue to get better, even in the face of some of that adversity,” said Daugherty, whose team lost its first meeting with Richmond 47-34 on Feb. 22. “I think those are the things that need to be the tenets of our program. That’s what we need to be about every day, regardless of whether things are going well or not. From that standpoint, I think we’ve established some of those things.”
The Marauders, sticking to a six-player rotation of two freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and a senior Tuesday, hung with the high-scoring Red Devils (66.3 ppg) until Richmond exploded late in the third quarter and early in the fourth period.
Ahead 32-25 with under a minute remaining in the third stanza, the Red Devils scored 18 of the game’s next 21 points, with 13 points coming from senior guard Kendal Baker. Richmond’s lead ballooned from seven to 22 with just over five minutes left in the fourth.
MV trailed 13-5 after a quarter and 24-13 at half, but closed to within five at 28-23 with three minutes remaining in the third quarter after senior Alec Lohman and freshman Michael Ertel canned 3-pointers around freshman James McCloud’s jumper.
The Marauders did well against Richmond’s full-court pressure most of the night — MV finished with 10 turnovers, a respectable number considering the team’s youth and the Red Devils’ speed — but suffered decision-making lapses at a few vital junctures. Those mental mistakes prevented the Marauders from seriously threatening Richmond and eventually allowed the Red Devils to pull away.
“Against them you’re constantly on the precipice of it getting away. The guys did a good job, even early in the game when they made a quick spurt. We were able to pull it back together and make a shot and get a stop to keep it within reach. We just ran out of gas,” Daugherty said. “Once it started to get away from us, their pressure gradually took a toll on us physically. And when you’re not quite as sharp physically, then you start to become less sharp mentally and a few of the game plan things that we had executed pretty well…all of the sudden it got away from pretty quick.”
Baker scored all 15 of his points in the second half to pace Richmond. Michael Tillman, the Red Devils’ leading scorer at 16.2 ppg, added nine points. Isaiah Rader had eight.
Lohman sunk 6-of-8 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 18 points. McCloud had 10 points and a team-best six rebounds.
Daugherty and his staff had the same group for the final seven games of the season, and the former Tipton and Chatard coach credited Lohman and Caleb Deckard, the team’s two remaining healthy seniors, for showing leadership as the season wore on.
“It’s been a fun couple of weeks. I think all of them have had a valuable experience during this time,” Daugherty said. “Our seniors are probably the biggest testament to our continued growth. The fact that Alec and Caleb have continued to come to practice to improve every day, they’ve really set the tone for the rest of our guys and their improvement. That’s made my job fun.”
Looking on to next year, the future is bright for Mt. Vernon. Four of the team’s five starters Tuesday — Ertel, sophomore Miles Wayer, sophomore Michael Thompson and junior James Stricker — are slated to return next winter, as are McCloud and Shepherd.
“Now, it’s time to take the next step in our improvement and develop more consistency among the guys we have returning,” Daugherty said. “Next year is a year where we can reap some of the benefits of what we went through this year.”
Notes: Coleman finished with 1,264 points in his career, second-most at Mt. Vernon behind 1998 graduate Tim Miller, who scored 1,390 points. … MV assistant coach Jason Young was unsure of his return next season. … Richmond’s two defeats came to now-4A No. 16 Columbus North on Jan. 4 and now-4A No. 9 North Central on Feb. 8. … The Marauders did not attempt a free throw Tuesday. … Richmond had just four turnovers.
4A SECTIONAL 9 AT NEW CASTLE
Richmond 58, Mt. Vernon 43
MV — Wayer 1-8 0-0 3, Ertel 2-6 0-0 6, Lohman 6-9 0-0 18, Thompson 3-7 0-0 6, Stricker 0-1 0-0 0, McCloud 5-8 0-0 10, Deckard 0-1 0-0 0, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 17-40 0-0 43.
RI — Webster 2-10 0-1 4, Shabazz 1-2 3-4 5, Tillman 4-6 0-0 9, Okafor 2-7 2-2 6, Lett 2-4 1-1 5, D. Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Baker 6-9 0-0 15, Rader 3-5 2-2 8, N. Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 3-3 0-0 6, Austin 0-2 0-0 0, Luce 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 23-49 8-10 58
SCORE BY QUARTERS
MV (9-14) 5 8 12 18 — 43
RI (20-2) 13 11 14 20 — 58
Three-pt. field goals: MV 9-20 (Wayer 1-4, Ertel 2-6, Lohman 6-8, Thompson 0-1, Deckard 0-1). RI 4-13 (Webster 0-2, Tillman 1-2, Okafor 0-1, Baker 3-6, Austin 0-2).
Rebounds: MV 18 (Wayer 3, Ertel 3, Lohman 3, Thompson 1, Stricker 1, McCloud 6, Campbell 1), RI 23 (Webster 1, Shabazz 2, Tillman 2, Okafor 4, Lett 7, D. Thomas 2, Baker 1, Rader 3, Brown 1). Assists: MV 6 (Ertel 2, Lohman 2, Stricker 1, Campbell 1), RI 10 (Webster 2, Shabazz 1, Tillman 1, Okafor 4, Lett 1, Baker 1). Steals: MV 1 (Lohman 1), RI 8 (Tillman 2, Okafor 2, Baker 1, Rader 1, Brown 2). Blocks: MV 0, RI 0. Total fouls: MV 10, RI 6. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: MV 10, RI 4.