MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon High School varsity girls basketball team knew the visiting Big Walnut Eagles posed a daunting task. What the Yellow Jackets didn’t know was just how big of a challenge it was.
The Jackets played Big Walnut even for a quarter before the Eagles took off. A 10-0 run in the final three minutes of the second quarter opened up a close game, which the Eagles won, 51-36.
“I think it was a lack of execution on our part that really started the momentum swaying in Big Walnut’s favor, said Mount Vernon coach Doug Savage. “This is disappointing because we’ve been playing so well of late. We really hadn’t had a bad game since early in the season.”
Mount Vernon (5-5, 3-4 Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division) struggled in nearly every facet of the game, especially on offense. The Jackets shot 12-of-47 from the field, including 1-of-7 from three-point range, and were 11-of-21 at the free-throw line. The Jackets also trailed in every statistical category.
The game started off well for Mount Vernon as Karina Shackle scored two quick buckets. Big Walnut (8-3, 6-1 OCC Capital) came storming back with two buckets from Jessica Simpkins wrapped around a Tabitha Piper 3-pointer. Back-to-back buckets by Keli Thompson and Niki DiGuilio put Mount Vernon back on top, 10-7, with 3:20 to go. The Eagles scored a free throw by Tara Johnson and a jumper by Piper in the final two minutes, however, to tie the game up at 10 after one.
“In the first quarter, the reason we were successful was because we got the ball down inside the first three or four times and we were able to convert,” said Savage. “But we stopped going inside and tried to live by the three-point line, which you can’t do. You’ve got to get some penetration either through the dribble-drive to the lane or kick it in to your post players. Some how, some way you have got to get the ball inside-out. The games played inside-out, and we were getting the ball in consistently.”
Piper kept the momentum in the second quarter, scoring four of the first five points. A layin by DiGuilio with 3:57 to go pulled Mount Vernon within one, 14-13, but that was the end of the Jackets’ scoring. A 3 by Piper started a 10-0 run to end the quarter and send Big Walnut into the locker room with a 24-13 lead. Kayleigh Hammond scored the final six points of the run.
The Jackets’ first half woes were evident. They shot just 5-of-26 from the field, though Big Walnut didn’t fare much better (8-of-22). It was clear something would have to change if Mount Vernon was to make it a game in the second half.
Big Walnut quickly made it a 15-point game as Simpkins, who missed much of the second quarter with foul trouble, scored six points in the first two minutes. A jumper by Thompson and a 3-pointer from DiGuilio kept the Eagles in check, but those were the only buckets from the field in the quarter for Mount Vernon. The lead stood at 12 on two occasions before Big Walnut scored the last six points of the quarter to go ahead, 38-20.
An opening bucket by Jodie Jindra started the fourth quarter and gave the Eagles a 20-point advantage. Mount Vernon, however, began to show some life and cut the lead back to 12, 42-30, over the next three minutes. A jumper by Johnson was matched by two DiGuilio free throws to keep the deficit at 12 only minutes later. Jindra hit 1-of-2 at the free throw line with 1:43 to play before a stickback by DiGuilio cut the lead to 11. DiGuilio finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks — all team highs.
That was as close as Mount Vernon got, however. The Eagles scored six of the last eight points to seal the 51-36 win.
“We’ve made a vow that we are going to play as hard as we can for 32 minutes no matter what the score is,” said Savage. “For the most part, we’ve done a good job with that. I know at times tonight, it didn’t look like we were doing that because our offensive execution was so poor. The girls weren’t giving up; they were still fighting hard in the fourth quarter. We cut the lead down to 12 a few times, and had a few more chances to get it inside of 10 points, but we just had a lack of offense. We had poor free-throw shooting, which was a surprise. We just didn’t do anything to get any momentum going our way.”
Four big Walnut players reached double figures in scoring, led by Piper’s 14 points. She also had four assists. Simpkins added 13 points, and Hammond and Jindra each finished with 10 points.
The Mount Vernon junior varsity team improved to 6-3 in reserve action, beating Big Walnut, 34-24. Jordan Peppers led the Jackets with 11 points. Alex Miglin dropped in eight points, and Taylor Strack scored six points.
The Jackets have a little time off to regroup, a week to be exact. Mount Vernon will spend time practicing in preparation for next Friday’s showdown at New Albany. The Jackets beat the Eagles the first time around, 42-41.
“We’re playing the two best teams in the league back-to-back,” Savage said. “It is not going to be easy. We are going to have to try and get back to our fundamentals. We need to get better seals inside by our post players and we need to get our guards to look inside a little more.”