MOUNT VERNON — In the last home game of the season, the Mount Vernon girls basketball team had one of the best defensive showings all year.
However, despite being held to just 28 percent shooting, Big Walnut converted when it mattered, and turned Mount Vernon’s homecoming into a 34-26 Eagles win.
Mount Vernon entered their final game shorthanded. Sami Rine was out with an injury, and Jordan Peppers was limited due to a week-long illness.
“We weren’t sure where (Peppers) was going to be as far as her stamina,” Mount Vernon head coach Joe Rucker said. “We took it easy with her, let her come off the bench, gave the starting spot to some players who have really stepped up.”
Peppers didn’t see action until late in the second period. Ten seconds after hitting the court, she sank her first basket. In the second half, she came in again for over half a quarter, when she scored again. When she was subbed out she was gasping for breath.
The Yellow Jackets knew they were in for a battle. Big Walnut hadn’t lost to any team with a losing record all season. Although the Capitol Division title is out of reach for the Eagles, they were still in the running just one week ago.
The Jackets, on the other hand, have been looking for an identity all season. Although individually, the players have developed well, there is still a lack of cohesion on the court — especially on offense — a problem all too obvious to those in attendance.
The team committed 29 turnovers, including 17 in the first half. The Jackets played a tighter offense in the third, but the few times they did turn the ball over (four), Big Walnut converted each one into points (eight).
Those points turned a 14-14 tie at halftime into a 22-14 advantage in the third quarter. It wasn’t a big lead, but at the current pace of the game, it was almost insurmountable.
“(At halftime) I vented because we had made so many mistakes, and yet we were still tied,” Rucker said. “When we fell behind in the third, I told them to keep their heads in it. Keep playing hard, and good things will happen.”
Defensively, Mount Vernon rose to the occasion on Friday. The Jackets played a hard-nosed style, taking it to the Eagles physically and forcing turnovers. The officials let the two teams play and called few fouls (25 for the whole game,) which played in Mount Vernon’s favor.