Melissa Marlow loved the competitive spirit the former Sectional 27 brought each year. It made for great rivalries and great games.
But Marlow is glad the sectional that included Hamilton Heights, Mt. Vernon, New Palestine, Shelbyville and her Rushville unit has been left to the history books.
“We can reap the benefits (now),” said the 13th-year RV coach. “You could get knocked out in the first round back then.
“There’s no doubt we were all glad when we got redistricted.”
Stretched across three counties and lasting from the 2007-08 to 2010-11 seasons, Sectional 27 became known as one of the toughest opening rounds in the state.
Rushville claimed the first three Sectional 27 crowns of that era, felling Hamilton Heights — which beat defending state champ Ft. Wayne Concordia Saturday — twice and NP once. MV lost to Rushville in 2008 and 2009 before falling to Hamilton Heights in 2010.
The 3A No. 6 Marauders (21-4) and No. 7 Lions (22-3) will clash in Saturday afternoon’s Richmond semistate, set to tip-off at approximately 3 p.m.
No. 2 Hamilton Heights (22-2) and No. 4 Benton Central (22-3) square off in Saturday’s semistate at Crown Point, the winner playing the Richmond victor a week from Saturday at Indiana State University’s Hulman Center with the state championship on the line.
Though it reached the state finals a year ago and the regional championship in 2011, it wasn’t too long ago that Mt. Vernon was stuck in a postseason rut.
After advancing to semistate in 2004-05, the Marauders were one-and-done in the sectional round four out of the next five seasons
The setbacks typically came at the hands of former Sectional 27 tenants Rushville and Hamilton Heights, with three of the four losses coming to the Lions and the Huskies.
MV finally broke through in February of 2011.
Entering Sectional 27 play two years ago, Mt. Vernon sported 36 wins in its past 40 contests, but was without a sectional victory since Feb. 9, 2007.
Ranked No. 2 in the state and fresh off an 18-game win streak that ended on the last day of its regular season, MV edged No. 9 Rushville 61-56 in the sectional semifinals, snapping the Lions’ 19-game sectional win streak and ensuring that Rushville would go home without a sectional title for the first time in seven years.
The Marauders then beat host No. 5 Hamilton Heights 77-69 in the finals to claim their first sectional championship since 2005.
“Two or three of those years were all ranked in the top 10,” 15th-year MV coach Julie Shelton said of the former Sectional 27. “It’s really neat to see all three of us in the final four this year because those were some fun years and some fun rivalries.”
The extended history between Mt. Vernon and Rushville is littered with additional winning streaks.
From Nov. 21, 2003 to Feb. 13, 2009, the Lions defeated the Marauders nine out of 10 times, the only setback a sectional semifinal defeat in 2005.
Now, MV has prevailed in three straight regular-season meetings — part of its 27 straight Hoosier Heritage Conference triumphs — and four games overall, including a 68-66 victory at Rushville back on Nov. 16.
“Through the years it’s become a great rivalry,” Marlow said of her team’s matchups with Mt. Vernon. “It’s been a great thing for players and for fans.”
In four of Rushville’s five 2013 playoff wins — statistics for its sectional semifinal win over Lawrenceburg were not available — the team shot at least 16 free throws and secured at least nine offensive rebounds in each contest, with 28 attempts from the foul line and 27 offensive boards representing the apexes.
The Lions are averaging 23 free-throw attempts and a smidge over 15 offensive rebounds through four of their five playoff wins, an obvious point of concern for Shelton.
“That definitely worries me,” she said of Rushville, which has four players that average at least four rebounds per game. “The free-throw line and offensive rebounds are where the majority of their points come from in the games I’ve watched, and from our first game.”
In the two squads’ initial meeting this past November, they combined for 43 fouls and 63 free-throw attempts. The Lions also outrebounded the Marauders 35-23, grabbing 13 offensive boards in what is in line with their recipe for success.
RV forwards Sarah Cook (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Keragan Niehoff (nine points, 10 rebounds) were particularly effective in the first go-around.
“Speed isn’t our forte,” Marlow said. “It’s just being physical and playing solid defense.”
The Marauders rode into Rush County on that November night to play their third game of the season, and their first sans sophomore guard Olivia Coleman, who tore her ACL in the team’s previous tilt versus Lawrence Central. Coleman had assumed a portion of the ball handling duties in the first two games.
Additionally, Mt. Vernon was still figuring out how to utilize freshman wunderkind point guard Sydney Shelton.
Everything changed early in the third quarter.
Down 41-32, MV began to isolate Shelton and pivot Erica Moore — now the team’s two leading scorers at 18.5 and 18.9 ppg — on one side of the floor, which immediately jumpstarted a stagnant black and gold offense.
Moore delivered a season-high 25 points and Shelton finished with 21, the initial 20-point game of her career.
A similar physical, close contest can be expected Saturday as both teams eye return trips to the State Finals.
In their most recent semistate appearance back in 2010, the Lions defeated Evansville Memorial 60-49 before falling 59-48 to Ft. Wayne Concordia in the state championship.
Last season, Mt. Vernon lost 42-39 to Concordia in the State Finals after handling Madison 70-54 at semistate.
The teams have conquered divergent paths to get to semistate.
MV’s first two sectional matches were blowouts, but its past three playoff wins have been by a combined 10 points, including 45-44 point triumph over No. 1 Lebanon in the regional semifinals.
Conversely, Rushville has won by an average of nearly 18 points per game, the closest margin a seven-point win over Madison in finals of Sectional 29.
“They’ve played great competition,” Marlow said of MV’s playoff run. “Our kids have been playing good team basketball. We’re nothing fancy. These kids have exceeded many people’s expectations.”
Notes: MV’s other semistate title came in 1977. It would lose in the state championship game. Rushville has three other semistate titles (1981, 1985, 1993). ... The Lions won 15 straight games after their November defeat to the Marauders. ... MV’s win percentage of 84.7 (83-15) is 10th-best in the state over the past four seasons.
WE MEET AGAIN
>> 3A girls basketball semistate games on Saturday, preceeded by Class A semistate games that tip at 1 p.m. Winners advance to State Championship, March 2 (6 p.m.) at Indiana State University’s Hulman Center.
No. 7 Rushville (22-3) vs. No. 6 Mt. Vernon (21-4), 3 p.m.
At Crown Point
No. 2 Hamilton Heights (22-2) vs. No. 4 Benton Central (22-3), 3 p.m.
>> Recent MV-Rushville regular season and postseason tilts:
Date Location Winner
2/11/11 Hamilton Heights Mt. Vernon 61-56
2/13/09 New Palestine Rushville 47-45
2/8/08 Mt. Vernon Rushville 46-38
2/19/05 New Palestine Mt. Vernon 50-44
Date Location Winner
11/16/12 Rushville Mt. Vernon 68-66
11/18/11 Mt. Vernon Mt. Vernon 58-31
11/19/10 Rushville Mt. Vernon 56-33
11/20/09 Mt. Vernon Rushville 45-36
11/21/08 Rushville Rushville 42-34
11/16/07 Mt. Vernon Rushville 47-32
11/17/06 Rushville Rushville 60-53
11/18/05 Mt. Vernon Rushille 43-30
11/19/04 Rushville Rushville 44-33
11/21/03 Mt. Vernon Rushville 53-48
11/22/02 Rushville Mt. Vernon 54-31
11/16/01 Mt. Vernon Mt. Vernon 53-43