MOUNT VERNON — To say the Mount Vernon High School girls basketball team got off to a hot start on Wednesday night is putting it mildly.
The Yellow Jackets hit 6-of-7 shots from the field in the first quarter and went 4-of-4 from the free-throw line to build a big lead against the visiting Zanesville Blue Devils. They then held off a second half Zanesville rally to post a 58-39 victory.
“In the first half, I thought we played as well as we possibly could,” said Mount Vernon coach Doug Savage. “We shot the ball well; we did have a few early turnovers, but after that. We settled down and got some good looks at the basket. We shot a high percentage. I think the kids came out ready to play, and we got out in front of them quick.”
Mount Vernon led 19-6 after one quarter, and took a 33-16 lead into the locker room at the half. The Blue Devils used an 18-4 rally to close the gap to seven with 5:36 to go in the game, but Mount Vernon responded by hitting 10-of-12 free throws down the stretch, including seven straight by sophomore Keli Thompson, to seal the victory.
“(Thompson’s free throws) were pretty much the game if you want to put it into a nutshell,” said Savage. “If we didn’t make all those free throws, who knows what would have happened. For a sophomore to step to the free-throw line and hit 7-of-8 in a crunch time in the fourth quarter, that’s just a tribute to her. She’s the type of kid that works hard all the time, and without those free throws, who knows what would have happened. She was able to knock them down, which takes a lot of poise, self-confidence and mental toughness.”
Jauni Gleason got the game going for Mount Vernon, scoring on a layup just 31 seconds in, and that started a Jacket onslaught. Aisha Reese got Zanesville on the board in its next possession, but a 3-pointer by Niki DiGuilio fueled an 11-2 spurt over the next four minutes. DiGuilio added a pair of buckets as did Karina Shackle to help build the commanding lead. Zanesville went 2-of-12 from the field in the first quarter. Free throws by DiGuilio and Macie Malone, along with a last-second layin by Tori Flemming made it a 13-point game after one, 19-6.
Mount Vernon continued the offensive production into the second quarter, scoring eight of the first 11 points to make it a 27-9 ballgame. The Blue Devils finally got back-to-back buckets midway through the second quarter, but got no closer than 15, and trailed 33-16 at the half.
It looked as if the Jackets would run away with the game early in the third quarter after DiGuilio hit another 3 and Thompson scored a jumper to make it a 38-17 game with 6:25 on the clock. That’s when something clicked for Zanesville, however.
The Blue Devils stepped up their full-court defense and back-to-back steals by Reese and Kailee Howe led to easy buckets on the other end. That also started a 13-2 run to end the quarter. At the end of three, Mount Vernon’s lead was cut to 10, 40-30.
“We were in pretty deep foul trouble, and we were having a hard time getting the ball up the floor against their pressure,” Savage said. “We put the ball right in front of their quick hands, which ld to some transition baskets for them. They didn’t really score off our defense. They really score more off their defense, and beat us back in transition. We just needed to keep our composure and be strong with the ball.”
The two teams traded putbacks in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter before a 3-pointer by Maddie Brown cut the lead to seven, 42-35, with 5:36 to play. That was as close as Zanesville got, however. Thompson hit two free throws to push the lead back to nine, and continued to convert them down the stretch. The end result was a 14-4 Mount Vernon run to end the game.
“I thought if we could be strong with the ball, we could get to the foul line a lot, which we ended up doing,” said Savage. “I thought we were pretty strong with the ball in the last half of the fourth quarter and we knocked down the free throws, which allowed us to pull away.”
DiGuilio, in her first game back from eye surgery, led all scorers with 18 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Thompson added 13 points, three steals and two assists; Flemming had 10 points and eight rebounds; and Shackle had six points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists. For the game, Mount Vernon was 19-of-33 from the field and 18-of-24 from the free-throw line.
“(Flemming) was big around the basket,” said Savage. “She was really relentless on the boards. She got us a lot of second-chance opportunities. Getting 10 big points from her off the bench, that was probably her best game of the year so far.”
In junior varsity action, a pair of stingy quarters lifted the Jackets to a 38-30 victory. Zanesville jumped ahead after one quarter, 15-13, but Mount Vernon held the Blue Devils to just two points in the second quarter to take the lead. The Jackets then followed it up with a five-point third quarter, defensively, which made it a 29-22 game. Jordan Peppers scored 15 points to lead the Jackets (4-3). Alex Miglin dropped in eight points, and Sami Rine had six points.
The Jackets have a few days off before returning to league play. Mount Vernon will travel to Watkins Memorial in Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division play on Tuesday before returning home to take on Big Walnut on Friday, Jan. 8.