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Marauders happy with hoops debut

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FORTVILLE — There are very few, if any, girls in the state who can guard Erica Moore one-on-one.

So, when the standout Mt. Vernon forward goes to the bench, MV opponents will have to take advantage. It’s a sound strategy that might have worked for Connersville on Saturday, save for an equally dangerous Marauders freshman.

Moore scored a game-high 17 points and Sydney Shelton added 16 points in Mt. Vernon’s 47-38 season-opening win.

Moore, a six-foot-1 junior with multiple Division I collegiate offers, scored seven points in less than five minutes to start the game. But she picked up her second foul with one minute, 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter and was out of action for the rest of the opening half.

The Marauders took an 11-10 lead into the second quarter, and the Spartans (0-1) built what would be their largest lead of the game at 16-13 midway through the quarter. With Moore sidelined and the Spartans threatening to extend their lead, Shelton kept the Marauders afloat. The freshman guard scored all 10 of her team’s points in the quarter and the game was tied 21-21 entering the break.

Moore returned in the third quarter to help 3A No. 2 Mt. Vernon outscore Connersville 16-4 to put the game away.

“I think she brought a lot to the table, especially for a freshman,” Moore said of her young teammate. “I know what I did (picking up two first-quarter fouls) wasn’t that smart, but she did really good to step it up.”

Shelton is one of several new faces crucial to the Marauders’ potential success as they try to repeat last year’s run to the Class 3A State Finals.  Moore and senior guard Rachel Houck, who struggled to five points on 2-of-7 shooting Saturday, are the only two returning starters.

Along with Shelton, who is coming off the bench for now, sophomore combo guard Olivia Coleman and senior posts Ellie Balbach and Krista Shockley also have increased varsity roles.

Coleman contributed seven points and nine rebounds against Connersville, including five points in the decisive third quarter.

“She’s the secret weapon,” MV head coach Julie Shelton said. “As far as I’m concerned, if by Christmas I can get her to be stronger and more confident in what she can do, then I think she’s going to be the difference in us being an average team or an above-average team, depending on how much she can grow as a player.”

Coleman’s nine rebounds tied Moore for the team-high, and MV beat Connersville on the boards 31-21.

Houck, a shooting guard last season, paced the Marauders with four assists as she takes over at the point in place of graduated Indiana All-Star Jessica Brown. The athletic Houck, headed to Louisville on a softball scholarship, will need time to adjust to her new basketball roll.

“When everybody was keying on Jess, Jess could penetrate and pass, and Rachel had time to get her legs under her,” Shelton said. “It’s just going to be a different shot that she’s going to have to get used to.

“I think eventually that will be a shot that she’ll hit. And she’s up high (on the arc); she’s used to shooting the baseline 3, so it’s just different. She’ll get there.”

Seemingly the only Marauder not making a significant adjustment this year is Moore, who has offers from Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Butler, Temple, Syracuse, St. John’s, Rutgers and others.

A member of the Michigan State coaching staff was on hand Saturday.

“It’s not stressful at all,” Moore said of the recruiting process. “I’m enjoying it, because I know it will only happen once and I’ll look back one day and think it was an enjoyable period in my life.”

Foul trouble was sometimes an issue for Moore last season, but with a player of her ability, it’s to be expected, Shelton noted.

“With as powerful and as fast as she is, she’s going to get a few of those (fouls),” the 15th-year coach said. “That’s just something we’re going to have to live with.

“I didn’t think either of the (first quarter fouls) were stupid. One was iffy and on the charge the girl just kind of ran in front of her and fell. With as big as she is and people keying on her, as long as she’s not just trying to block every shot or knock people down, I’m happy with the progress and we’ll keep working it.”

Balbach finished with five rebounds Saturday, including three during Moore’s second-quarter absence. Sydney Shelton (the coach’s niece) sank 4-of-6 field goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers, to help keep the Spartans from pulling ahead at halftime.

Julie Shelton said that points could be hard to come by when Moore is on the bench, especially as teams become aware of  Sydney Shelton’s ability.

“With Erica out, it just changes everything about us, because then teams can be more aggressive out on our guards, because the inside presence is gone,” Julie Shelton said. “Erica takes a couple people always knowing where she is defensively, so it just changes the whole dynamic of our offense.

“I thought she really played, except for that one little stretch of trying to dribble up the court, very well as far as under control tonight.”

Sophomore Tierra Huntsman (14 points) and senior Kenzie Weston (12 points) led Connersville. The starting guards combined for 8-of-27 shooting.

Notes: MV will host Lawrence Central (1-0) tonight. The Bears beat the Marauders 58-49 last season. … Sophomore forward Shaely Duff was the seventh varsity player to see action for MV Saturday. … The Marauders’ JV team beat Connersville 21-11. Taylor Riggs led MV with seven points.

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