WORTHINGTON — Friday night’s Division I Sectional Final was more about advancing for the Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets than it was about beating their opponment. It just happens, however, that the two go hand-in-hand.
Facing the Brookhaven Bearcats at Worthington Christian High School, Mount Vernon overcame a slow start and came from behind to beat Brookhaven, 44-41.
The Jackets (19-3) scored just four points in the first quarter, but came alive in the second, scoring 19 to take a 23-21 halftime. Brookhaven (16-6) retook the lead in the third quarter, but a strong defensive effort in the final period helped the Jackets earn the victory.
“It was a five-point game going into the fourth quarter and it was their possession, so we knew we had to dig down and get a stop,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman. “We talk about it all the time, but I thought our defense came up big in that last quarter. We got our stop, and were able to get a score. That took a little bit of the pressure off us and put it on them.”
The teams traded shots to start the game, but a couple of late buckets put the Bearcats in command after one, 11-4. Ben Hoar and Bradley Fenton each had a bucket in the first quarter.
Brookhaven looked like it might run away with the game early in the second quarter after scoring six of the first nine point to go up by 10, 17-7, but Riley Swanson ignited the Jacket offense. Swanson, who had scored a bucket early in the quarter, hit a jumper with 5:10 to go and that started a12-2 run by Mount Vernon. The Jacket defense led to a pair of buckets as did the team’s aggressiveness.
“They kind of sped us up in the first quarter, and we were playing their game instead of ours,” said Mount Vernon senior Tad Glibert. “Our defense picked up in the second quarter and our intensity was better. Riley did really well; he attacked the basket really well.”
“We finally started attacking,” Swanson said. “In the first quarter, we were just standing around. In the second quarter, we started driving to the basket and attacking, which opened up the middle for us.”
A pair of layups by Swanson capped the run and tied the game at 19 with 2:22 to play. Peter Kpan hit a pair of free throw to put Brookhaven back ahead 26 seconds later, but it was shortlived as Swanson added another two buckets to send Mount Vernon in the halftime break with a 23-21 lead.
“(Brookhaven has) a good, pressure defense, and I thought their pressure kind of kept us from being aggressive,” said Kaufman. “We started reversing the basketball and putting pressure on them by attacking the basket in the second quarter. ... That was the big difference. We outscored them, 19-10, and made a nice little run to get ourselves back into the game.”
Mount Vernon scored first in the second half, getting a bucket from Hoar, but Brookhaven made a charge. The Bearcats put together a 10-2 run to retake the lead, which they held after three, 35-30. Kpan dominated the quarter, scoring 10 points.
The Jackets weren’t done, however. A three-point play by Swanson started the fourth quarter for Mount Vernon and kept the Jackets within striking distance of the Bearcats. The teams traded free throws over the next couple of minutes before Kaufman called a timeout with 2:15 to play. Coming out of the break, Swanson found Charlie Phillips open for a deep 3-pointer, which gave Mount Vernon a 38-37 lead with 2:07 to go.
“I don’t quite remember what we talked about, but we knew that Charlie was one of our options,” sid Kaufman of the discussion during the time-out. “He wants the ball in that situation. He is a great player, and great players step up in those types of situations. That was a big shot.”
Glibert then picked the Bearcats’ pocket on the next possession and was fouled trying to get down the floor. He hit both shots to make it a three-point game, which put a lot of pressure on Brookhaven. Bowling Green recruit Craig Sealey pulled his team back within one with 44 seconds to go, but Phillips added two more free throws to negate Sealey’s bucket.
“It felt better (to be in the lead) because we had been down almost the whole second half, but we knew we had to get some stops,” said Glibert. “We were able to and we hit our free throws down the stretch.”
Randall Clarkson scored a layup with 23 seconds left to put the lead back to one, and after Mount Vernon missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw situation, Clarkson was in position to be the Bearcats’ hero. He drove the lane and laid a shot in with six seconds left, but was called for a charge, his fifth foul of the game. Brookhaven immediately fouled Swanson, who hit a pair of free throws to put the lead back to three, 44-41. A last-second three-point attempt sailed past the rim to give the Jackets the victory.
“This feels great,” said Swanson. “We were tight the whole game, but we pulled it out at the end. I’m really proud of these guys.”
Swanson led all scorers with 18 points. Phillips scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter, and Hoar had six points. Fenton and Glibert added four points apiece, and Glibert had five steals.
Kpan led Brookhaven with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Sealy had 11 points and seven boards. Each had two blocked shots as well.
With the win, Mount Vernon advances to play Westerville North, a 61-59 winner over Grove City on Friday night, at the Columbus Fairgounds Coliseum. Getting a chance to play at “The Barn,” was another one of the team’s goals, and now it is a reality.
“This feels great because we wanted to get back to the Coliseum for a third straight year,” said Glibert. “I think we have the experience to finally win one there. ... The atmosphere is unlike any other; I don’t think there is any place better to play than the Coliseum. It is a great experience, and we’ve been there before. Westerville North is a good team. They have a really good player in Ralph Hill, but we think we can compete with them.”
The game will be played on Saturday, March 6, at 2:30 p.m.
“This is going to be fun. I can’t wait,” said Swanson.