RICHMOND — Mt. Vernon is one win away from redemption.
The 3A No. 6 Marauders defeated No. 7 Rushville 59-51 Saturday at the Richmond Semistate to earn a berth in the State Finals.
MV (22-4) will take on No. 2 Hamilton Heights (23-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Indiana State University’s Hulman Center. The gold and black fell to Ft. Wayne Concordia 42-39 in last season’s state championship.
At Crown Point Saturday, HH beat No. 4 Benton Central 69-58 to claim its first-ever semistate title.
The Marauders and Huskies met on Nov. 21 in Fortville, with Hamilton Heights winning 70-61.
Saturday at the 8,100-seat Tiernan Center, Mt. Vernon sprinted out to a 17-4 lead after a quarter, increasing its margin to 18 in the second before taking a 33-18 advantage into intermission.
MV was out in front 42-31 after three frames. But, the Lions (22-4) made a run in the fourth.
Rushville got within five on three separate occasions, but the Marauders hit 15-of-19 free throws in the final eight minutes to seal the triumph over their Hoosier Heritage Conference rivals.
“It feels wonderful,” Mt. Vernon coach Julie Shelton said of MV’s third semistate crown. “I couldn’t be happier right now.”
After their big start, the Marauders maintained a healthy lead until the Lions mounted an offensive early in the fourth quarter.
Rushville crept to within five points at 45-40 and 47-42, and were down five once again after Sarah Cook hit a free throw — her eighth point of the quarter — to get the Lions to 49-44 with 2:23 left on the clock.
The margin could have been trimmed further after MV’s Rachel Houck was off on the front end of a one-and-one, but RV missed a layup on its next trip. Sydney Shelton wound up with the ball and was fouled.
Shelton hits both free throws, and the Marauders hit 10-of-12 from the charity stripe in the final one minute and 33 seconds to survive their fourth consecutive postseason nail-biter.
Mt. Vernon rallied past Chatard 58-54 in the Sectional 26 championship, then felled No. 1 Lebanon 45-44 and No. 14 Indian Creek 54-49 to claim the Danville regional.
“It’s really fun to win those games. We’ve been fighting,” said MV sophomore Shaely Duff, who contributed a career-high 15 points. “We’ve fought through everything. We came back to this point and knowing that this could be our last game, it’s incredible.”
The Marauders’ dramatic postseason run has been a stark contrast to 2012, when they bulldozed their way through sectional, regional and semistate play by an average score of 69-34.
“These games have definitely made us closer,” Sydney Shelton said of her team’s playoff tightrope. “Now we know what to do in close games. We know who to get it to, what to do on defense and how to handle it.”
The teams’ first meeting came on Nov. 16 at Rushville. MV prevailed 68-66, with Shelton helping seal the victory from the foul line.
The freshman point guard was instrumental in crunch time again Saturday, sinking 8-of-8 freebies in the fourth quarter en route to a game-best 18 points.
Shelton tallied six of those points in the opening quarter, and her dribble-drive layups twice forced Rushville coach Melissa Marlow to signal for timeouts.
Erica Moore also had six points in the first quarter. The 6-0 junior controlled the paint on both ends, registering five rebounds and standing tall against the Lions’ strong front line. Moore would finish with 14 points and nine rebounds.
MV’s biggest advantage came at 22-4 following Houck’s second triple, but the Lions closed well enough to leave room for a potential comeback in the second half.
“We didn’t have an answer for Moore in the first half,” offered Marlow, whose team shot 6-of-24 (25 percent) in the first two quarters. “She took away some rebounds, and that’s usually our bread and butter. She took those away and I think that shell-shocked us a little bit.”
RV was also careless with the ball in the opening two periods, turning the ball over 10 times.
“At halftime, we had a little meeting about how we weren’t doing the things we were supposed to be doing individually and as a team,” Marlow offered. “We pretty much called them out at halftime, just to get some fire.
“I thought the kids responded beautifully in the second half.”
RV’s Mackenzie Campbell scored eight of her team-best 16 points in the third quarter. The Lions outscored the Marauders 33-26 in the second half and limited them to 5-of-17 shooting (29 percent).
“We did a fantastic job on defense in the first half,” Julie Shelton said. “In the second half, we got too spread out and a little tired. We were right back to letting them do what they wanted.
“Thank heavens we listened and did that in the first half.”
Both teams shot under 40 percent for the game, with MV making 36.2 percent (17-of-47) and RV 37 percent (17-of-46).
The Marauders (21-of-25, 84 percent) and Lions (16-of-20, 80 percent) also shot well from the foul line.
Marlow hinted that the first-half turnovers, many of them traveling violations, proved to be the difference in the game.
“I told them all week we can’t turn the ball over,” said Marlow of her squad, which had 19 turnovers. “That was on our scouting report. Mt. Vernon makes you do that.”
In Mt. Vernon and Hamilton Heights’ first meeting, the Huskies led 28-11 after a quarter and 47-27 at half before holding off a furious Marauder rally.
Post-game, Julie Shelton confessed that she was already looking ahead to the State Finals, as well as thinking back to November when her squad registered 18 turnovers against the Huskies’ press.
“Definitely going to be a battle of two totally different styles,” she said. “In the first outing, they had their way. Hopefully we can prepare all week and be ready for their style.”
Marlow witnessed the first MV-HH tilt and said the Huskies, who will be making their first State Finals appearance, are a better-shooting version of Lebanon.
She added that Hamilton Heights is a team with talented guard play — senior Dakota Weatherford was a 2012 Indiana Junior All-Star — but cannot match up with Moore in the paint.
“I don’t see Hamilton Heights as a strong rebounding team,” Marlow offered. “If Mt. Vernon can get it across half-court, they can dominate in the post.
“Hamilton Heights has got great guard play though, and they can shoot the lights out.”
Notes: Cook (14 points, seven rebounds) and Keregan Niehoff (12 points, seven rebounds) delivered solid performances for the Lions. … In the first game at Richmond Saturday, Vincennes Rivet rallied past Southwestern (Shelbyville) 58-50 to advance to the Class A State Finals to take on Ft. Wayne Canterbury. … MV’s other semistate titles came in 1977 and 2012. Rushville was looking for its fifth semistate crown. … Hamilton Heights is the only 3A school to defeat MV this season. Both of the Huskies’ losses came to 4A schools (Noblesville, Westfield). … Rushville leaves the HHC starting next school year, but Marlow said she plans on scheduling a game against Mt. Vernon. … The Huskies beat Ft. Wayne Concordia 65-62 in the Bellmont regional final.
Class 3A Semistate at Richmond
Mt. Vernon 59, Rushville 51
RV — Dougherty 1-4 3-4 6, Campbell 8-17 0-0 16, Niehoff 4-9 4-4 12, Ash 1-2 1-2 8, Cook 3-14 8-10 14, Herbert 0-0 0-0 0, Flannery 0-0 0-0 0, Yager 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 17-46 16-20 51.
MV — Shelton 4-13 10-10 18, Duff 5-10 3-4 15, Houck 2-4 2-3 8, Moore 4-14 6-8 14, Balbach 0-0 0-0 0, Baugh 1-3 0-0 2, Walrod 0-0 0-0 0, Shockley 1-3 0-0 2. Totals — 17-47 21-25 59.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
RV (22-4) 4 14 13 20 — 51
MV (22-4) 17 16 9 17 — 59
Three-pt field goals: RV 1-7 (Dougherty 1-3, Campbell 0-4), MV 1-9 (Shelton 0-2, Duff 2-4, Houck 2-2, Moore 0-1).
Rebounds: RV 33 (Dougherty 2, Campbell 3, Niehoff 7, Ash 8, Cook 7, Yager 1, Team 5), MV 28 (Shelton 5, Duff 2, Houck 2, Moore 9, Balbach 2, Shockley 2). Assists: RV 3 (Niehoff 2, Herbert 1), MV 8 (Shelton 3, Duff 2, Houck 2, Walrod 1). Steals: RV 6 (Campbell 3, Niehoff 2, Ash 1), MV 6 (Shelton 1, Houck 2, Moore 3). Blocks: RV 3 (Ash 1, Cook 2), MV 1 (Moore 1). Total fouls: RV 21, MV 18. Fouled out: Campbell (RV), Balbach (MV). Turnovers: RV 19, MV 11.