MOUNT VERNON – Bryn Elliott deserved to smile.
In a season that’s had its fair share of lows, her Yellow Jackets could savor this one.
Mount Vernon (2-13, 1-6 OCC) earned its first Ohio Cardinal Conference win of the season on Thursday night. The Yellow Jackets pulled away late to beat Ashland (1-15, 1-8), 49-32.
After falling to Ashland by 6 points on Dec. 12, Mount Vernon got revenge Thursday. The Yellow Jackets led by double digits for the first time all season and posted their highest point total in the win.
“It just feels great,” said Elliott, the team’s starting point guard and one of its two seniors. “I mean, we wanted that win since the last time we played them. We knew we had the ability to beat them, and I think just us playing as a team and us all playing hard – it feels great to actually feel like a part of a team now.
“We all want it, and I think we deserve it. So I’m happy.”
Elliott and fellow guard Cora Lepley helped the Yellow Jackets pull away in the second half. Mount Vernon’s speedy backcourt duo dissected Ashland’s 2-3 zone, getting into the paint and dishing to teammates. They swung the ball around the perimeter, found gaps in the middle of the zone and knocked down shots.
This forced Ashland, traditionally a zone program, to switch to man-to-man, and the rest was history. The Yellow Jackets beat the Arrows off the ball and off the bounce, finding lay-ups through backdoor cuts and dribble-drives.
“Once we got the lead and they had to go man, I think that helped us,” Mount Vernon coach Doug Savage said. “That served us better because we were able to beat their guards a little bit, get into the lane and dish it.”
Mount Vernon led by just 2 points at halftime, 21-19, but came out swinging in the third quarter. Elliott found Stella Bainbridge on a backdoor cut, then Lepley dropped the ball off to Celina Fritsch for a lay-in that quickly grew the lead to 6.
After another dime from Lepley, this time to center McKenna Brokaw, Elliott drilled a pull-up jumper to make it 29-22. Mount Vernon junior Lexi Shaffer scored the final 5 points of the quarter to give the Yellow Jackets a 34-24 lead heading into the fourth.
Mount Vernon stretched its lead in the final quarter. Brokaw scored 8 of her game-high 16 points, as she capitalized on opportunities around the rim. Her and-one transition lay-in with 3:52 remaining put Mount Vernon up 14, and effectively put the game on ice.
“All-in-all, I think the game kind of went our way because we got the lead early and we stayed the course on that,” Savage said.
Ashland led 12-7 after one quarter, but as the night progressed, the Arrows seemed to lose rhythm offensively. Junior center Kaylee Friesen tallied 9 points in the first half, but only scored 2 the rest of the way.
“They stepped up and we didn’t really answer as well as I thought we would,” Ashland coach Dave Swartz said. “I think we played a little slower tonight than we would’ve liked to, so that’s probably the biggest thing right there. And we could not get a shot to fall. We got a lot of good looks tonight and everything was there, and we just couldn’t get a shot to fall.”
Ashland thrived on second-chance opportunities in the first half, but Mount Vernon found a way to keep the Arrows off the glass in the second. The Yellow Jackets were able to take the lead in the second quarter by forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.
They pulled ahead on a floor-burn steal from Shaffer, who pitched it ahead to Elliott, resulting in a Brokaw lay-up with 5:10 to play until halftime. They never looked back.
“Our girls were excited,” Savage said afterwards. “Here’s what I like: we’ve won two games and we’ve lost however many, but you know what? The kids are still excited… They still like being here, they’re still trying to get better. So that’s exciting, to see that.”
After going 0-6 through the first round of OCC play, Savage is preaching game-to-game improvement in round two. Because the Yellow Jackets beat Ashland by 17 after initially losing by 6, he considers that a 23-point improvement since mid-December. He said this mindset seems to have resonated with his team.
“It’s one thing for me to say, ‘Hey, you’re getting better.’ But when I got data saying, ‘You’re getting better,’ then they’re more apt to believe it that way,” the veteran coach said. “So that was a big message coming into this game for our kids, and I thought they responded to that pretty good.”
After the loss Thursday, Swartz told his players to stick together. He said he's proud of how they’ve responded to adversity this season.
“We tell them to keep their heads up, keep playing hard. We’ve still got games to play, so there’s no sense in getting down on yourself now. And just be a good teammate. You know, these are great girls. It’s a great group that we’re with here, and they work together really well, and they’re not doing the things they shouldn’t do.
“They’re staying together as a group, and that’s what we keep telling them: stay together. It’s hard to stay together when you lose, but if you can stay together, that’s what makes a winning team, no matter what the scoreboard says.”
Mount Vernon: M. Brokaw, 16; L. Shaffer, 9; S. Bainbridge, 6; B. Elliott, 5; C. Lepley, 5; E. Burke, 5; C. Fritsch, 3.
Ashland: K. Friesen, 11; K. Paramore, 7; C. Miller, 7; B. Plank, 4; E. Ryan, 3.