TERRE HAUTE — When it comes to the diamond, Hancock County is no stranger to state championships.
New Palestine baseball and softball teams and the Mt. Vernon softball program have combined to win five Indiana High School Athletic Association titles, with all of those state championships coming since the spring of 2000.
Beyond the diamond, Greenfield-Central (1973) and Eastern Hancock (1985) proudly claim football state trophies. And a handful of wrestlers, cross country and track and field athletes have grabbed IHSAA individual championships for local schools.
Hancock County teams were not on the hallowed list of winners in Indiana’s most treasured pastime, though, until Saturday.
Mt. Vernon beat Hamilton Heights 61-47 to win the Class 3A girls basketball title. At the school for 16 years, MV assistant principal and girls athletic director Greg Roach was on hand for MV’s last and only team title: the 2000 softball team’s 2A championship.
“It is rare, there’s no question about that,” he said. “Our softball team won it and the next year we thought we would win it again and we got beat in the regional by Roncalli.
“And then we’ve had some girls (basketball) teams through the years we felt like really had a good chance and sometimes couldn’t even get out of the sectional, the other teams were so good.”
Roach was in his second year at Mt. Vernon when Julie Shelton took over the girls basketball program. Shelton was also the head volleyball coach at the time.
Long witness to Shelton’s leadership, Roach said the coach had one of her toughest challenges this season as the team dealt with injuries and other issues.
“This team, with all the adversity, you just kept wondering, would that be the thing that sets us back so we can’t get through? And, I tell you what … they fought through it. These kids are tough. They’re a reflection of their coach, definitely.
“Julie has expectations and she makes the kids meet those expectations. She doesn’t change them or lower them just because times get tough. It makes them better young ladies, but it also helps them be successful on the basketball court. When things get tough, they can persevere because they’re used to that high standard. And they expect it of themselves; I truly believe that.”
Attendance increased by 3,000
The two sessions of the State Finals Saturday at the Hulman Center at Indiana State University drew 11,698 spectators, an increase over last year’s 8,547 tickets sold, also held at ISU.
For Session I, which included Fort Wayne Canterbury’s 42-35 Class A win over Vincennes Rivet and the 2A victory for Evansville Mater Dei over Eastern (Greentown), 62-42, attendance was 4,780, up from last year’s 3,838.
Session II, including the Mt. Vernon win and the Class 4A game between Bedford North Lawrence and Fort Wayne South (BNL took a 54-51 victory), attendance was 6,918, well over last year’s Session II number of 4,709.
Terre Haute has hosted the last two State Finals, preceding a two-year run by Fort Wayne as host city. The finals were held in Indianapolis for several years through 2009, when the Big Ten basketball tourneys and other conflicts forced the IHSAA to find a new host city.
The site for the girls’ 2013-14 State Finals hasn’t been announced.
Gold and black (and blue)
MV junior forward Erica Moore was double- and triple-teamed nearly all game, and took her share of physical contact. Toward the end of the day, she was forced to the sideline with a bloody chin after landing face first under the basket. She said it was all in a day’s work.
“After the first few minutes (of the game), I was expecting to fall every five seconds,” she said. “But, that’s okay. (Hamilton Heights) thought we were going to look for me on offense the whole time, so that left Sydney (Shelton) and Rachel (Houck) and everybody else open, so we made them pay.”
Moore set a Class 3A state championship game record with 15 rebounds.
An impossible (3A) defense
The Mt. Vernon girls basketball team will not win a second state championship — not in 3A, at least.
MV’s state title this season, combined with last year’s semistate crown, automatically pushes the program up to 4A for the next two seasons via the IHSAA’s tradition factor.
“I think we can compete for it,” Moore said of the 4A title. “We just have to be ready for it and we can do anything.”
Roach noted that when he first arrived at MV, it was a Class 2A school. So, an overall elevation of the program wouldn’t be unprecedented.
“We play 13, 14 4A schools on our schedule, so we feel like we play that schedule anyway,” he said. “Probably have to pick up a couple more 4A games, but our kids are strong, which I think you need in 4A. Have to get stronger, still. And, obviously, you always have to improve, but I think we’ll be fine.”
MV’s starting unit to open next season will likely include Moore, Shelton (29 points Saturday), Olivia Coleman and Shaely Duff. All four girls started this year, although Coleman suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team’s second game.
Because of the recent cancelation of the Hancock County Basketball Tournament, Mt. Vernon can add two new opponents to its docket. As Roach mentioned, the team will look to add 4A programs to the schedule.
“Ellie (Balbach) has struggled, but it’s really funny because this week I was teasing her some and she’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve got one more game, coach. One more game to show you I can do it.’ And, by God, she did.”
— Julie Shelton