NEW CASTLE, Ind.
Richmond’s relentless defense hounded Mt. Vernon once again.
This time, so did the second-half sharpshooting of senior Kendal Baker.
Baker scored 15 points — all in the second half — as the Red Devils ousted Mt. Vernon 58-43 in Tuesday’s opening game of Class 4A Sectional 9 at New Castle Fieldhouse.
Seventh-ranked Richmond advances to Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal opposite Greenfield-Central (5-17).
“My teammates, they give me the open shots. They give me confidence to shoot the shots,” said Baker, who netted 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Baker’s teammates also gave him some opportunities off turnovers. Baker scored twice directly off steals forced by the Red Devils as Richmond improved to 20-2.
“When we step up our defensive intensity, our offense just follows with it,” Baker said. “Defense first.”
That’s been the theme for both of Richmond’s meetings with the Marauders.
Tuesday’s tournament game was much like the regular-season match-up. Richmond turned up the defensive pressure the first time, too, for a 47-34 road victory Feb. 22 in Fortville.
Mt. Vernon pulled within 28-23 late in Tuesday’s third quarter. Richmond responded with a 10-2 run to push its lead back to double digits by the start of the final period.
“We knew, once again, in the second half we knew we had to pick up on defense to get our offense rolling,” said RHS junior Isaiah Rader, who scored eight points. “We came out and we just made sure we did that.”
Richmond’s lead reached as many as 23 points when Baker’s final bucket of the game made it 56-33 with 3:36 remaining.
Mt. Vernon’s Alec Lohman led all scorers with 18 points — all off 3-pointers — as the Marauders finished with more treys (nine) than 2-pointers (eight).
“I thought we played really sound and under control early,” said RHS coach Joe Luce. “We guarded them, and while it may have been a six- or eight-point game, with the number of possessions it was like a 20-point lead.
“When we sped it up and got things going, our offense took over a little bit. We got a couple of turnovers and showed some signs of what we could do.”
Mike Tillman finished with nine points for the Red Devils, while Joel Okafor and Auntonio Brown each scored six and Zach Lett contributed five points and eight rebounds.
Tillman swished Richmond’s first 3-pointer of the game with 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Baker followed that with another late in the frame to send the Devils into the fourth quarter leading 38-25.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Tillman said of advancing to the semifinal round. “Mt. Vernon, they were a tough team. They came out and they played hard. We just fought through it and we got the win.
“We are always aggressive on the defensive end. That’s what we thrive off of. We always do that, turn defense into offense, and that’s how we got out to our big lead.”
Abdul Shabazz had five points for RHS and Davious Webster added four. Okafor grabbed five rebounds and Shabazz finished with three.
James McCloud had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Marauders (9-14), who were making their first appearance in the New Castle sectional. Mt. Vernon was a semistate team in Class 3A a year ago.
“I thought we rebounded the ball well tonight, and made some key plays late in the second half that really gave us some confidence,” Luce said.
Richmond did not play Greenfield-Central in the regular season. Anderson (9-12) meets defending champion Pendleton Heights (14-7) at 6 tonight, followed by Connersville (13-9) and host New Castle (8-12) to close out the tournament’s first round.
The championship is 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“(It was) very important, for all of our guys,” Luce said of playing a first-round sectional game. “We’ve had a great year. It’s our 20th win. We do not believe the season starts over when the postseason starts. I think you prepare yourself during the season.
“We are looking at 20 wins against two losses, a team that’s played very well, played different styles all year long. That experience of getting out in front of the crowd and playing in this environment was good for us, and it will be good again Friday.”