COLUMBUS — Greyhounds are known for two things — coursing wild game and racing. Both require great speed and agility to be successful.
The Grove City Greyhounds, the high school boys basketball team, displayed those same traits against the Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets on Saturday. Playing in a Division I Central District semifinal game, the Greyhounds scored the first 10 points and raced away for a 55-31 victory over the Yellow Jackets. Grove City’s mix of speed, size and athleticism caused Mount Vernon too many problems to overcome.
“We talked to our kids the last three or four days in practice about how hard these guys play; we wanted to meet their aggressiveness and we wanted to be the aggressor,” said Grove City coach Greg Waits. “We wanted to get them on their heels right away, and I thought we did. We came out and scored five straight field goals, and that set the tone for us the entire game.”
Mount Vernon’s (16-7) defense, despite giving up bigger runs, did what only one other team has been able to do this year — hold the Grove City (21-2) offense in check. The Greyhounds, who scored 1,725 points in 22 games this season (78.4 average), were held to 55 or fewer points for only the second time this season. The other time, Dec. 23, the Greyhounds fell to Newark, 56-51.
“I thought we did a decent job defensively,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman. “They got a few transition baskets on us where we didn’t get back, but overall we did a nice job. … We just didn’t score enough points.”
The Greyhounds’ Cody Funk got the game going with three layups in the first 1:10 of the game. Mount Vernon, which was 0-of-4 from the field to start the game, called a timeout, but Grove City wasn’t deterred. Following the timeout, Grove City continued to roll, eventually jumping out to a 14-2 lead. Senior Ben Severns, who scored Mount Vernon’s first bucket, ended the first quarter with a pull-up 3-pointer at the buzzer to close the lead to nine.
“They are a pretty explosive team and they are able to score points in bunches,” said Kaufman. “When they got up, it hurried us up a little bit, which is what they wanted to do.”
Mount Vernon, which shot 2-of-14 from the field in the first quarter, continued to struggle in the second. A missed free throw and six straight turnovers added to the Jackets’ frustration. Grove City got 3-pointers from Aaron Murfin and Funk in the first half of the quarter to go ahead, 20-7. The Jackets answered with three points of their own, but the Greyhounds answered with a 7-2 run to end the quarter and go into halftime with a 27-12 lead.
“They’ve played a lot of zone in the tournament and that’s what we expected — a 2-3 zone or a 2-2-1,” said Waits. “We were well prepared. … We were concerned coming in that they would control the tempo — and I think they tried to slow it down — but we did a good job answering the call.”
Grove City didn’t let up in the third quarter. It went on a 9-1 run to open the period and take a 23-point advantage. Then the two teams traded buckets down the stretch, with Mount Vernon trimming the lead by one, 41-19, after three.
A three-point play by Ryan Cosgray and another layup by Funk made it a 27-point game in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Mount Vernon continued to battle, however, getting buckets from senior Cuy Sheffield and Charlie Phillips. A reverse dunk by 6-foot-7 senior Jon Smith, who is headed to St. Louis University, put an exclamation mark on the game for Grove City, which scored just four free throws in the final five minutes. Mount Vernon rattled off six points in the final 2:10 to pull within 24, 55-31.
“It was pretty tough (to get an offense going),” said Kaufman. “I think we’ve got pretty good ball handlers, and pretty good guard play. They made it tough for our guards to run our offense, and they made it tough for our post guys to move around. They are a good team.”
Funk led Grove City with 17 points, and Cosgray added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Smith finished with eight points, 16 rebounds, two steals and four blocks; and Murfin had five points, three steals and three assists.
Severns was the Jackets’ leading scorer, finished with 10 points. Joe Scott added six points and eight rebounds; and Sheffield had four points and three assists. Mount Vernon’s third senior, Stephen Bien, got in foul trouble early and his high school career ended with 3:52 to play.
“Our seniors have been great,” Kaufman said. “Mount Vernon hasn’t been to back-to-back districts for a long time, and these guys have done that. They are going to be remembered in Mount Vernon history. They’ve done it through hard work, perseverance and selflessness. Those three things come to mind when I think of our seniors.”
Despite the loss, Saturday’s experience was invaluable for the 10 underclassmen on the Jackets’ roster. Just as this year’s seniors learned from last season’s district semifinal run, this group will be better prepared when their number is called in the future.
“If our younger guys take things away from this experience this year, then the program is going to be just fine,” said Kaufman.