By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
GRANBY — The Mt. Vernon Mountaineers scored the game’s first seven points and never even saw one tie score during their 46-29 victory Tuesday night over the East Newton Patriots for overall Big 8 Conference bragging rights.
Momentum has shifted for both teams before their final regular season games — Mt. Vernon owns a four-game winning streak headed into Friday’s contest against McDonald County (it’s Senior Night for the Mountaineers), while East Newton looks to avoid three straight losses entering districts when it hosts former Big 8 rival Carl Junction on Thursday.
East champion Mt. Vernon (15-10) finished conference play unbeaten at 7-0 and West champion East Newton (15-9) lost its last two after winning its first five against Big 8 West foes.
On Tuesday night, Mt. Vernon picked up where it left off — especially defensively — from last Friday’s overtime victory against Springfield Catholic. In that 69-64 come-from-behind victory, Mt. Vernon outscored Catholic 32-17 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Mountaineers held East Newton in single-digits all four quarters — seven points in the first, six in the second, and eight in both the third and fourth.
“We’ve been a good defensive team most of the year,” Mt. Vernon head coach Mike Ray said. “We did a good job tonight. They missed some shots that they probably normally make, but, yeah, our kids guarded well for the most part. We put a big emphasis on rebounding. I know they got a few offensive rebounds. We were concerned about that. Our guys just had a good mindset to guard from the beginning.”
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” East Newton head coach Kyle Fields said. “We had turnovers and we never could find our niche and settle in. We pressed a bit. All in all, the year’s not over yet, but I’m very proud of the way that we played in the Big 8. Mt. Vernon’s a very good team and well-coached. Their kids play hard and they do a lot of things well, so we’re just not quite there yet.”
East Newton scored the last four points of the first half and the first three after halftime to make it a 24-16 game, but Mt. Vernon answered with six consecutive points over a 3-minute span to extend the lead back to 14. The Patriots did not see another single-digit deficit for the balance of the contest.
Every Mt. Vernon player who saw the court Tuesday night stepped up and made at least one big shot.
“We play mainly seven guys,” Ray said. “All seven have led us in scoring in a game this season. We have good balance and they share the ball. Really, I don’t know that if at this point anybody cares who scores or not as long as your team comes out on top. That unselfishness was a big key for us.”
Cale Miller led Mt. Vernon with a game-high 16 points, Colby Johnston scored all 10 of his points after halftime, Mason Ballay added eight, Rafe Darter scored four, Kai Brown and Slater Eldridge both hit treys for their only points, and Zach Jones rounded out the scoring with two.
Kyson Lahman paced East Newton with 13 points and Connor Killion added seven during a sluggish offensive night overall for the Patriots.
“We all want to win,” Ray said, “but I talked to Kyle before the game. They’re a conference champion and we’re a conference champion no matter what that scoreboard says. It’s nice to get that validation, but if we had lost, we’re still a conference champion and I consider East Newton a conference champion. This was a game for the kids to come out and go out and compete. I thought it was a good atmosphere with their crowd and it was what a district game would be like.”
Mt. Vernon and East Newton could possibly meet again down the road and if they do meet again, it would be for the Class 3, District 12 championship on the last day in February.
Seven of the eight teams in the district have at least 11 wins and six of them have winning records (top seed Mt. Vernon, No. 2 Clever, No. 3 East Newton, No. 4 Sarcoxie, No. 5 Lamar, No. 6 Pierce City).
Mt. Vernon opens against longtime rival Aurora and East Newton faces a Pierce City team with 19 (possibly 20) wins. Both district quarterfinal games offer rematches from earlier this season.
“Very tough district,” Fields said. “Pierce City beat us early in the year, in the second game of the season (48-45 in the Pierce City Invitational). They’re a tough team and they’ve had a lot of success in football. Eighteen wins and a sixth seed, that’s a real tough district.”
MT. VERNON 46, EAST NEWTON 29
Mt. Vernon 14 10 9 13 — 46
East Newton 7 6 8 8 — 29
MT. VERNON (15-10) — Cale Miller 16, Colby Johnston 10, Mason Ballay 8, Rafe Darter 4, Kai Brown 3, Slater Eldridge 3, Zach Jones 2.
EAST NEWTON (15-9) — Kyson Lahman 13, Connor Killion 7, Lucas Kimbrough 5, Gabe Bergen 2, Kelton Sorrell 2.