The Mount Vernon girls varsity basketball team improved to 9-8 last week after dropping their first game and then taking the next three straight. It’s the first time the team has been above .500 since 2020.

Monday, Jan. 17The Mustangs opened their week on the road and challenged the West Branch Bears, with the Bears just scraping by 45-44.

“This game had an interesting ebb and flow to it,” noted Mustangs head coach Nate Sanderson.

“We jumped out to a 15-point lead at one point in the second quarter, and were close to putting the game away early. To West Branch’s credit, they answered with consecutive three-point makes to close within nine points at halftime,” Sanderson reported.

In the third quarter, that lead would melt away into nothing, as West Branch star Delaynie Luneckas scored some key buckets to tie the game.

“We responded with a couple of clutch 3-pointers from Eryn Jackson and Kenzie Rentschler to push the lead back to seven. Unfortunately, West Branch rallied again to tie the score with two minutes to play,” said Sanderson.

Lilly See, a junior, intercepted a pass with 25 seconds remaining in the game, and took the ball the length of the court for a layup to put the Mustangs on top 44-42.

On the final West Branch possession, Luneckas passed to teammate Kylie Picket on the wing, who delivered the game-winning three-point basket with three seconds of the game. It was the only time Pickett scored in the contest, but it was enough.

“The game was informative for us — both building our confidence that we can create great scoring opportunities — and reaffirming that we still have a ways to go, particularly when trying to protect a lead,” Sanderson said.

Tuesday, Jan. 18 The team bounced back from the previous evening with a 60-40 win at Independence.

“We rebounded very well last night following Monday’s disappointing loss,” said Coach Sanderson.

“Both teams started relatively slowly until we found the range from long distance, and were able to blow the game open in the second quarter. With 6:05 left in the first half, we led 16-11. And then, we made five three-pointers in the next six possessions, closing the quarter on a 27-5 run to open up a 43-16 advantage at the half,” Sanderson said.

“We worked on a few different things in the second half, and managed to get everyone into the game in the fourth quarter. Eryn Jackson and Liz Dougherty led the Mustangs in scoring with 12 points each. For Jackson, it was the first time she scored in double-digits in her young career. She has been playing with a lot of confidence lately, converting on seven of her last nine from downtown,” said the coach.

Sanderson noted that Jackson, a freshman, is the seventh different Mustang to lead the team in scoring for the season, which he called “a remarkable statistic.”

Friday, Jan. 21Though the Mustangs had handily beat the Maquoketa Cardinals in their last meeting, Coach Sanderson said his team was expecting a fight, and “we were not disappointed.”

In the end, the Mustangs came out on top of the visiting team 47-46 in WaMaC conference action, improving Mount Vernon’s record to 8-8.

“The game was back-and-forth all night with neither team able to gain much separation. Our largest lead was in the final minute of the second quarter (30-23), but it did not last long as Maquoketa surged ahead in the third quarter to lead by as many as five,” said Sanderson.

However, the Mustangs were able to keep the Cardinals from scoring in the final 4:12 of the game, which allowed them to chip away at the lead. Kameron Brand hit a key three-pointer to cut the lead to 46-44.

Peyton Simpson sunk one of her two free throws to get her team within one.

With under 20 seconds left to play, Ashlyn Steen stole the ball, and drove into traffic for a contested layup and a one-point victory.

“It was a great moment for Ashlyn,” said Sanderson. “She came into the game for the first time with 2:00 to go, and played terrific defense, and then made a great play to score her second field goal of the season.”

Saturday, Jan. 22The Mustangs played their fifth game in eight days on Saturday against Clinton, as they hosted the River Queens and won 62-38.

Although it had been their fifth game in a row, Coach Sanderson said “there was no sign of fatigue as we poured in a school record 15 three-point field goals.”

Nine of the 15 were in the second quarter alone, which saw Mount Vernon scoring 28 points. In fact, all of the three-pointers were made in the first three periods of play.

The Mustangs regular season is beginning to wind down, with one last chance to see them at home coming Friday night, which is also Senior Night. The team will host West Delaware.

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