The related storylines are many. From this season’s four-overtime win over its Sectional 9 opponent, to its three consecutive wins over the sectional’s host school, a streak that includes a victory in last season’s championship game.
But the only storyline the Connersville Spartans and their coaching staff are concerned about can be summed up in a few words: win three games and defend that sectional championship.
“That’s the bottom line. That’s what it comes down to. You either win or go home, and we want to win this sectional again,” said Spartans’ head coach Kerry Brown.
“We have to go out there and play with confidence and execute our game plan. That’s what we’ll do.”
Connersville, 23-1 and rated 13th in the Associated Press final regular season 4A poll, will begin defense of its title at 6 p.m. Tuesday when it again does battle with Mt. Vernon (14-8) at New Castle Fieldhouse.
The Spartans defeated the Marauders, 88-85, in four overtimes on Jan. 27 at Fortville. CHS has won 15 straight games.
In its final regular season game last Friday, Mt. Vernon got 30 points and 12 rebounds from 6-5 senior Erick Shepherd to beat Yorktown, 68-61, in a Hoosier Heritage Conference game.
It was the Marauders fifth consecutive win.
MV led just 62-61 with a minute to play but Shepherd made 5-of-6 free throws to help secure the win. James McCloud scored 10 points for Mt. Vernon, high-scoring guard Michael Ertel had 9.
The Marauders finished second in the HHC with a 6-1 record. Pendleton Heights (17-6) won the HCC with a perfect 7-0 mark.
Shepherd, McCloud and Ertel have caused multiple problems for opponents all season. The trio was nearly at its best in the marathon loss to the Spartans.
Shepherd scored 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and grabbed 8 rebounds; the 6-5 McCloud had 11 points and 5 rebounds.
But Ertel did the most damage, making 7-of-15 3-pointers and four 2-point shots to register a game-high 31 points.
A 6-1 senior, Ertel — who will attend Louisiana-Monroe — averages 21.0 points a game to lead Mt. Vernon. Shepherd averages 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, McCloud averages 11.7 points and 7.0 boards, 6-1 junior Damari Gatewood averages 7.3 points and Logan Smith, also a 6-1 junior, chips in 5.9 points.
“We know what we have to do. We know we have to guard them inside and we have to guard them on the outside because all of their guys can score,” noted Brown.
“Hopefully we’ve taken his (Ertel) best shot. He can light it up. But Shepherd is a handful, McCloud does a lot of good things for them and Gatewood shoots it well.
“The key for us is to go out and do what we have to do defensively.”
Several Spartans played extremely well in the regular season win, especially in the overtime sessions.
Grant Smith made 13-of-15 foul shots and scored 27 points. He also had 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Noah Belt centered 13-of-14 free throws and scored 23 points. Beau Isaacs had 18 points and 9 rebounds and Garrett Silcott finished with 16 points, 4 caroms and 4 assists.
Smith averages 17.9 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists to lead CHS. Isaacs averages 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, Silcott averages 11.1 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 boards, Belt scores 6.5 points a game and Dalton Huffman averages 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds.
Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said the Marauders’ game plan is create openings by taking the ball to the basket and getting Shepherd and the team’s other inside players involved, with Ertel ready to provide the team’s long-range firepower.
Daugherty also said playing against the Spartans isn’t the easiest thing to do.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a coach who has drawn a Kerry Brown-coached team in the sectional that has been happy about it,” Daugherty told the Greenfield Daily Reporter. “They are disciplined, and they’re going to make you do it right or they’re going to make you pay.
“I think our guys are excited for the opportunity to play a good team like that, especially in our sectional. Based on the Sagarin we have one of the deepest and most balanced sectionals in the state. We’ll have to play our best.”
Brown says his team’s regular season victory won’t have any significant bearing on Tuesday’s game, if any. However, he said winning on Mt. Vernon’s home floor has the Spartans confident, and looking forward to playing the Marauders on a neutral court.
“The kids are ready to play. They’re confident and ready to go,” said the coach. “Two teams in the sectional are ranked ahead of us in the Sagarin ratings (Pendleton Heights and New Castle) which might be a lack of respect for us, but as long as we come out on top, I don’t care if we’re ranked second or third.
“Winning this game and winning the sectional are our goals. That’s what we plan to do.”
In Tuesday’s second game, Greenfield-Central (11-12) will take on Pendleton Heights (17-6).
The winner of the Connersville-Mt. Vernon game will play Richmond (2-22) at 6 p.m. Friday. Tournament host New Castle (16-6) will play either Greenfield-Central or Pendleton Heights in Friday’s second matchup (7:30 p.m.). Richmond and New Castle drew byes.
The championship game is Saturday (7:30 p.m.).
By the numbers: Connersville has scored 1,401 points, an average of 58.3 points a game. The Spartans’ opponents have scored 1,103 points — 46.0 a game.
Mt. Vernon has tallied 1,460 points (66.4 per game) and given up 1,317 (59.9).
Sagarin ratings: CHS: 83.46 overall, 70.60 strength-of-schedule (128th), No. 34 4A, No. 39 all schools.
Mt. Vernon: 82.14 overall, 76.21 strength-of-schedule (55th), No. 40 4A, No. 49 all schools.
Stats-wise — Mt. Vernon: Michael Ertel: 21 p, 4 r, 3.5 a; Erick Shepherd: 14.9 p, 6.6 r, 1.9 a; James McCloud: 12 p, 7 r; Damari Gatewood: 7.3 p, 2.1 r, 2 a; Logan Smith: 5.9 p, 3.1 r, 2.6 a.
If you can’t make it to the game, you can listen to the action on Kmix 106.9 fm featuring announcers Sam Harvey and Dave Pollard. Kmix 106.9 can be accessed via the iTunes media player.
Connersville statistics (23-1)
Grant Smith: 430 pts / 17.9 ppg, 10 r, 4.9 a, 1.7 st, 1.3 bks
Beau Isaacs: 290 pts / 12.1 ppg, 5.5 r, 1.3 a, 0.6 st
Garrett Silcott: 266 pts / 11. ppg, 4.3 a, 3.5 r, 1.1 st
Noah Belt: 156 pts / 6.7 ppg, 1.9 r, 1 a, 0.6 st
Dalton Huffman: 127 pts / 5.3 ppg, 2.5 r, 0.5 st
Hunter Sullenbarger: 69 pts / 2.9 ppg, 1 r, 0.5 a
Braxton Revalee: 10 pts / 0.4 ppg, 0.7 r, 0.4 a
Dalton Lee: 22 pts / 1 ppg, 1 r, 0.5 a, 0.3 st (22 gms)
Wes Smith: 14 pts / 0.8 p, 0.8 r, 0.3 a (17 gms)
Gavin Wickes: 17 pts / 1.1 p, 0.3 r (15 gms).
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