Early-season basketball games often feature some pretty uneven performances as teams try to establish their identity for the first time in live competition.
Both Whiteland and visiting Mt. Vernon had spurts in Tuesday’s season opener that saw them play like the teams they hope to become. The Marauders just happened to have one more of them, using a key third-quarter blitz to take control in what became a 59-45 road win.
Mt. Vernon turned six steals into nine straight points after the Warriors had tied the game at 28-28 early in the second half.
“Defensively, we have some athleticism,” Mt. Vernon coach Julie Shelton said. “In that stretch, we finally just kept going instead of getting up six and letting them catch up. It was nice to see them finally keep attacking defensively.”
The Marauders’ junior tandem of Ellery Minch and Kaitlyn Laffey tormented the Warriors early on, with each hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter. Whiteland kept itself within striking distance, however, with some long balls of its own, including one from Addison Emberton with 22 seconds left in the period that trimmed Mt. Vernon’s lead to 14-10.
Another Laffey 3 with 5:58 remaining before halftime gave Mt. Vernon its biggest advantage at 23-13 and plenty of momentum. But Gwen Higdon answered a minute later with her second trey of the second quarter, sparking a run of 10 straight points by the Warriors. The final bucket in that spurt, a 3-pointer from Emma Piercy just inside the 1:30 mark, tied the game up at 23-23.
Khloe Patterson hit a free throw to give the Marauders a 24-23 edge going into the half.
Whiteland opened the third quarter with a corner 3 from Sukhman Bains to take its first lead of the night at 26-24, but the momentum was cut short by a rash of turnovers that the visitors were able to convert into some easy buckets at the other end. Kanyonrae Kenny scored seven points in a row, the last two coming on a steal and layup, as part of that pivotal 9-0 burst that put Mt. Vernon in front to stay, 37-28, with 2:28 in the quarter.
“We got a little lackadaisical with the basketball,” Whiteland coach Kellie Kirkhoff said. “We were tired, and we just turned the ball over and didn’t get back on defense.”
Another Piercy 3-pointer early in the fourth got the Warriors back within five at 43-38, but an and-one by Minch and a 3-pointer from Easton Wampler stretched the Mt. Vernon lead back out to 11 points; Whiteland couldn’t get closer than six the rest of the way and the Marauders padded the final margin with eight late free throws.
Minch led all scorers with 19 points for Mt. Vernon, while Laffey added 15, Patterson 13 and Kenny nine. All of the Marauders’ points came from the starting five.
Higdon paced the Warriors with 15 points, followed by Emberton with 13 and Piercy with 12. Despite the defeat, Kirkhoff was pleased with what she saw from her team, which struggled to a 6-17 record last winter.
“I saw a lot of fight in our group,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the offseason, and we can show that progress in spurts. We’re just going to have to find a way to make those spurts longer and do it for a whole game.”