DANVILLE — A season ago, Mt. Vernon’s margin of victory in its sectional final and two regional wins was 45, 20 and 22 points.
This year, it was four, one and five points.
The Marauders may have made things more dramatic in 2013, but they’ve advanced to the semistate round for the second year in a row.
MV now stands one win away from a return trip to the 3A State Championship.
“It’s been crazy. You never really know what it’s going to be like each game,” said Mt. Vernon junior Maddie Walrod of her team’s recent penchant for exciting contests. “We just have to keep fighting, and I think semistate will be a great game for us.”
After felling No. 1 Lebanon 45-44 Saturday in the Danville regional semifinals, No. 6 Mt. Vernon held off No. 14 Indian Creek 54-49 in the title game later that evening to claim the program’s eighth regional crown.
The black and gold will take on Rushville (22-3), the victor of the Brownstown Central Regional and a Hoosier Heritage Conference foe, Saturday at the Richmond Semistate.
The winner will move on to the state final on March 2 versus No. 2 Hamilton Heights (22-2) or No. 4 Benton Central (22-3), who will face off at the Crown Point Semistate on Saturday.
The Rushville-Mt. Vernon tilt follows a Class A semistate matchup between Vincennes Rivet (21-4) and Southwestern of Shelbyville (21-4) at 1 p.m.
In a meeting on Nov. 16, MV edged host Rushville 68-66.
Last year’s regional final triumph was a breakthrough one for the Marauders. Stunned in that game in 2011 as a one-loss team, the ladies of the 2011-12 MV squad were overcome with monkey-off-their-back joy after their win over Edgewood.
Saturday at Danville, the black and gold were certainly happy to be moving on to Indiana high school basketball’s version of the Final Four, but were frankly too exhausted to offer each other much more than high fives and hugs.
It’s been a long, strange season for Julie Shelton’s unit. The 2011-12 team was grounded in the senior leadership of Jessica Brown, Anna Olson, Kelsie Owens and Makenzi Reasor. That group ran roughshod through sectional and regional competition, throttling Chatard 77-32 in the sectional finals and following that up with takedowns of Lebanon (64-44) and Edgewood (58-36) in the Lebanon regional.
This year’s team, with Rachel Houck and Erica Moore the only holdovers that received major minutes, has favored chaos over calmness in that same postseason stretch, beginning with a frantic rally to defeat Chatard 58-54 in the sectional championship.
That thrill ride carried over to Saturday at Danville.
In the semifinal contest, the black and gold held a 45-42 advantage when Shaely Duff fouled Lebanon’s Katie Curtis as Curtis was shooting a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left.
Curtis sank the first two freebies, but missed the third. Moore secured the rebound as time expired, ripping the ball away from Curtis.
Mt. Vernon trailed for much of the game before freshman point guard Sydney Shelton pulled up and swished a transition triple at the 2:43 mark, handing MV a 36-35 lead.
The teams traded baskets before LE’s Carly Greene converted a conventional 3-point play with 1:11 remaining, giving her squad a 42-40 advantage.
But at the 42-second mark, Shelton found a wide-open Duff in the left corner, and the sophomore forward sank her lone trey of the game to put MV up 43-42.
Following a Tiger turnover and a missed front end of a one-and-one by Shelton, a jump ball was called with 5.6 ticks on the game clock. MV was awarded possession and inbounded the ball to Houck, who was promptly fouled.
The senior guard coolly sank both free throws to increase her squad’s margin to 45-42.
Both teams were sloppy at the outset, combining for 15 first-quarter turnovers. LE freshman Kristen Spolyar had seven points (5-of-5 from the foul line) and five steals in the opening stanza, her unit ahead 12-5 after the first eight minutes.
The Tigers were out in front 19-16 at half, despite recording only three made field goals. They were 12-of-13 at the foul line, with Spolyar going 9-of-9 from the charity stripe and finishing with 11 points, six steals and four boards in the first two periods.
In the second half, Mt. Vernon went ahead 24-21 on back-to-back buckets by Duff and Moore, leading 28-25 before Lebanon closed the third quarter with a 6-0 run in the final minute.
Shelton and Moore, both sitting with three fouls, watched the Tigers seize a 31-28 lead by the end of the third. Both players returned to begin the fourth.
Of MV’s 29 second-half points, Duff, Moore and Shelton scored all but two.
Moore finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Shelton notched 10 points and four steals. Duff tallied nine points and three rebounds.
Spolyar had a game-high 15 points to along with eight rebounds and seven steals.
Curtis (13 points, three rebounds, three assists, five steals) and Greene (seven points, five rebounds) delivered solid contributions in a game that sent the victorious coach on an emotional roller coaster.
“Wow. It’s hard to even describe,” MV coach Julie Shelton said. “It’s like, ‘Yes, we’ve got this,’ then, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re not going to be able to pull this off,’ and, ‘Yes, we’re back up.’ It was crazy.
“The kids just kept fighting. We made some plays and gave up some plays, and ended up pulling it out.”
In the nightcap vs. Indian Creek, which beat Greencastle 53-39 in the second semifinal, the Marauders found themselves up 50-36 with 1:57 left in regulation.
The Braves would not wilt, however, and MV suddenly lost its poise.
Ally Lehman’s steal and dish to Alexis McGregor for a layup slashed the black and gold’s advantage to 52-46 with 26.4 seconds remaining.
The Marauders were whistled for a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds, handing the ball back to the Braves.
Lehman — who led Indian Creek in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks this season — drove the lane and collapsed the MV defense. She then fired a pass to Candace Danz in the left corner, whose resulting 3-pointer elicited a deafening roar from the IC faithful, as their squad was now down 52-49 with nine seconds left.
“We just do that a lot. We’ve struggled all year on putting something away,” Julie Shelton said. “It just seems like we expect it to go bad. But, we hung in there.”
Mt. Vernon quickly inbounded the ball to Sydney Shelton, who raced up the left side of the court before being fouled near midcourt via a hard hip check with 4.7 ticks left.
Once again, Shelton was faced with a one-and-one to ice the game.
This time, the rookie sunk both freebies, and the Marauders avoided a colossal collapse.
“I really don’t know,” said Walrod of the game’s final minutes. “We were so close to the end, I think we were all excited. I don’t know what we were thinking about [laughs].”
MV started fast against the Braves, scoring the game’s first seven points and forcing a timeout by IC coach Dan Burkman.
Buoyed by the versatile play of Lehman, a Northern Illinois recruit, Indian Creek responded to take a 14-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Lehman notched four points, five rebounds, a steal and an assist in the opening frame, and finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals.
The Marauders seized control of the game in the second quarter by extending their 1-2-2 zone defense the length of the floor, replacing posts Moore and Ellie Balbach with more mobile players in Krista Shockley and Walrod.
The result was seven second-quarter turnovers by the Braves, most of which came during a 9-0 MV run to begin the stanza.
“It’s a lot easier for us to get going,” Walrod said of the full-court press’ benefits. “The steals helped us get back in the scoring mode. It picked up the tempo.”
MV was ahead 29-18 at half and 41-34 after three quarters.
Moore sat to begin the fourth period, but checked in at the 5:18 mark and promptly took over.
The 6-0 junior scored the Marauders’ first 11 points of the final quarter and was the only member of her squad to convert a field goal in the fourth.
The game seemed over with 1:57 remaining after Moore was fouled in the lane, but still managed to sink her shot attempt while falling backwards. She made the free throw to put MV up 50-37.
Moore, who finished with a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds, still isn’t 100 percent after undergoing knee surgery in early January — something that has robbed Moore of her usual fast-twitch explosiveness around the basket.
But, Moore’s size and strength make her a mismatch for nearly any defender — as well as an easy target for opposing fans, who are quick to voice their opinion over perceived missed charges and over-the-back or three-second violations by the Division I recruit.
“She’s done a super job this year with getting double- and triple-teamed and everybody yelling that she’s pushing off and charging,” offered Julie Shelton. “She’s done a great job of having much better body control and not using that spin dribble, and just taking it in nice and easy — for her. It’s strong, but it’s not out of control.
“That’s why she’s improved in that area a lot. And for her, getting beat around as much as she does — especially in that first game — I’m very proud of her performance.”
Danz had 13 points to lead Indian Creek, which was searching for its first-ever regional championship.
Mt. Vernon is all too familiar with its next opponent. Rushville dropped to 0-2 following its early-season setback to the Marauders, but then ripped off 15 straight wins.
In that first meeting, MV trailed 63-60 with 23.7 seconds left before Moore tied the game.
And in what can now be termed as an eerie form of foreshadowing, Houck and Shelton knocked down free throws in the game’s waning seconds to seal the road victory and prevent the Marauders’ first HHC loss since Nov. 20, 2009.
“Rushville’s a very, very good team. They’ve improved a lot since the beginning of the season,” Julie Shelton offered. “We’re going to have to buckle down and really concentrate this week.
“They’re going to give us everything we can handle, there’s no doubt about it.”
Notes: The Lions beat Jasper 59-48 and Corydon Central 52-32 to win the Brownstown regional. … Mt. Vernon has two semistate titles (1977, 2012). Rushville has four (1981, 1985, 1993, 2010). … From 2008-11, MV, Rushville and Hamilton Heights were in the same sectional. … The Lions are leaving the HHC for the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference at the end of the school year. … Lehman left the regional final with a right leg injury with 3:13 left in the second quarter, but returned for the start of the third quarter.
3A Regional Final at Danville
Mt. Vernon 54, Indian Creek 49
MV — Shelton 6-12 4-4 20, Moore 9-16 5-5 23, Houck 1-8 0-1 2, Duff 1-4 0-0 2, Balbach 0-1 0-0 0, Baugh 0-0 0-0 0, Walrod 3-5 0-2 7, Shockley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 20-46 9-12 54.
IC — Lehman 3-7 6-7 12, Mathena 3-12 2-2 11, C. Danz 4-6 3-4 13, Haste 0-1 0-0 0, McGregor 5-8 0-0 11, R. Danz 1-2 0-0 2, Knight 0-2 0-0 0. Totals — 16-38 11-13 49.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
MV (21-4) 12 17 12 13 — 54
IC (20-6) 14 4 14 17 — 49
Three-pt. field goals: MV 5-9 (Shelton 4-5, Houck 0-2, Duff 0-1, Walrod 1-1), IC 6-13 (Mathena 3-8, C. Danz 2-3, McGregor 1-2).
Rebounds: MV 23 (Shelton 5, Moore 8, Houck 2, Duff 3, Balbach 1, Walrod 4), IC 16 (Lehman 12, C. Danz 1, Haste 2, McGregor 1). Assists: MV 8 (Shelton 2, Moore 1, Houck 3, Duff 2), IC 11 (Lehman 6, Mathena 2, Haste 1, McGregor 1, R. Danz 1). Steals: MV 11 (Shelton 2, Houck 5, Duff 2, Walrod 2), IC 6 (Lehman 3, Mathena 2, McGregor 1). Blocks: MV 1 (Baugh 1), IC 2 (Mathena 1, C. Danz 1). Total fouls: MV 14, IC 9. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: MV 12, IC 20.
3A Regional Semifinal at Danville
Mt. Vernon 45, Lebanon 44
MV — Shelton 3-13 3-5 10, Moore 6-11 0-0 12, Houck 1-5 4-4 7, Duff 2-8 4-5 9, Balbach 0-0 0-0 0, Baugh 2-6 1-2 5, Walrod 1-2 0-0 2. Totals — 15-45 12-16 45.
LE — Spolyar 2-9 11-11 15, Curtis 4-8 4-5 13, Greene 2-5 3-3 7, Davis 0-0 0-2 0, Cosgray 1-5 1-2 3, Rice 1-2 0-0 2, O’Rourke 1-1 0-0 2, Yoder 1-2 0-0 2. Totals — 12-31 19-23 44.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
MV (20-4) 5 11 12 17 — 45
LE (21-4) 10 9 12 13 — 44
Three-pt. field goals: MV 3-13 (Shelton 1-3, Moore 0-1, Houck 1-4, Duff 1-5), LE 1-7 (Spolyar 0-2, Curtis 1-4, Cosgray 0-1).
Rebounds: MV 26 (Shelton 3, Moore 10, Houck 1, Duff 3, Balbach 6, Baugh 3), LE 21 (Spolyar 8, Curtis 3, Greene 5, Cosgray 2, O’Rourke 1, Yoder 2). Assists: MV 3 (Shelton 1, Duff 1, Baugh 1), LE 5 (Curtis 3, Cosgray 2). Steals: MV 9 (Shelton 4, Moore 2, Duff 1, Walrod 2), LE 14 (Spolyar 7, Curtis 5, Greene 1, Cosgray 1). Blocks: MV 0, LE 1 (Yoder 1). Total fouls: MV 11, LE 11. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: MV 16, LE 18.
3A Semistate Capsules
Via John Harrell's Indiana Basketball
Benton Central (22-3) vs. Hamilton Heights (22-2)
GAME TIME: 3 PM EST, Crown Point.
COACHES: David Baxter, 62-10 in 3rd year at Benton Central, 138-92 in 10th year overall. Tod Windlan, 43-7 in 2nd year at Hamilton Heights, 126-80 in 9th year overall.
SAGARIN RATINGS: Benton Central, 89.11, 25th overall, 1st in Class 3A. Hamilton Heights, 88.47, 26th overall, 2nd in Class 3A.
LAST OUTING: Benton Central defeated Plymouth, 44-28, Feb. 16. Hamilton Heights defeated Fort Wayne Concordia, 65-62, Feb. 16.
VS. COMMON FOES: Benton Central 3-1. Hamilton Heights 3-0.
OPPONENTS’ RECORDS: Benton Central 354-232, Hamilton Heights 285-253.
SERIES LAST 10 YEARS: No meetings.
PREDICTION: Benton Central, 56-54.
Mount Vernon (Fortville) (21-4) vs. Rushville (22-3)
GAME TIME: 3 PM EST, Richmond.
COACHES: Julie Shelton, 241-102 in 15th year at Mount Vernon (Fortville). Melissa Marlow, 184-118 in 13th year at Rushville.
SAGARIN RATINGS: Rushville, 86.13, 34th overall, 6th in Class 3A. Mount Vernon (Fortville), 85.85, 37th overall, 7th in Class 3A.
LAST OUTING: Mount Vernon (Fortville) defeated Indian Creek, 54-49, Feb. 16. Rushville defeated Corydon Central, 52-32, Feb. 16.
VS. COMMON FOES: Mount Vernon (Fortville) 11-0. Rushville 10-0.
OPPONENTS’ RECORDS: Mount Vernon (Fortville) 309-249, Rushville 302-262.
SERIES LAST 10 YEARS: Rushville, 9-6.
LAST MEETING: Mount Vernon (Fortville), 68-66, Nov. 16, 2012.
PREDICTION: Mount Vernon (Fortville), 52-49.