SPARTA — A 3-pointer by Mount Vernon’s Trey Grohe with 22.2 seconds left on the clock proved to be the difference in a 39-35 Yellow Jacket win on the road Friday against the Highland Scots in both teams’ season opener.
“I saw Spencer (Bills) get the ball, and nobody was coming out to the corner, so I just knew I was going to shoot when I caught it,” said Grohe, whose first varsity game of his career was Friday. “I was hyped when I was getting back, but when I got back on defense, I knew I had to see what was coming.”
The ball changed hands several times in the waning seconds, with two missed free throws by each team in the final 10 seconds, including one waved off for a violation. Bills took to the charity stripe with less than two seconds to go and hit both of his freebies to put the game on ice, upping the lead from 37-35 to the eventual 39-35.
Highland started off strong, powered by seven of the team’s nine first-quarter points coming from Mack Anglin. The home team led Mount Vernon 9-7 after the first eight minutes of action.
The Jackets managed to get to the free-throw line early and often in the second quarter. The team went 9-of-10 from the line in the second quarter and other than an Evan Boatwright three, all of the team’s points came from the charity stripe.
“Early, we had a hard time adjusting to the speed of the game and their length, and that’s a credit to (Highland),” Mount Vernon coach Nick Coon said. “Eventually, we were able to get enough good shots and we did a good job finally getting to the free-throw line and convert.”
Despite the 12 points in the second, Mount Vernon still lost ground. Ty Stiffler had seven points in the second and Anglin chipped in another six to lead the Scots to a 24-19 halftime lead.
Both teams came out a bit stiff in the second half. Highland’s starting five started to get into foul trouble, forcing the Scots to change their rotations on the floor.
“We had to really manage guys in different ways that we’re not accustomed to,” Highland coach Chris Powell said. “Getting into foul trouble was uncharted territory for us, but I thought our guys handled it really well and managed the game. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
After outscoring Highland 8-5 in the third, the Jackets cut the lead to 29-27 with a quarter to go. The Scots were ahead, 33-32, before a bucket put the visitors in the lead 34-33. Chase Carpenter sank two free throws with 2:04 to go to restore Highland’s lead to 35-34. That lead remained for just over a minute and a half, before Grohe’s game-changing three.
A strong part of the Jackets’ game was their ability to get to the free-throw line and then their knack to knock down shots from there. Mount Vernon was 16-of-22 (73 percent) from the stripe, including the 90 percent in the second quarter.
“We were trying to find points any way we could,” Coon said. “To be able to get to the free-throw line and then convert at the free-throw line was huge. Like I said, that’s probably the difference in the game — being able to get there and convert there.”
Conversely, the Scots shot at a 41 percent clip at the line (7-of-17), leaving 10 points on the floor throughout the game.
“I thought we made free throws when we needed to, in the sense that when we were down (we hit them), with the exception of the last two at the end,” Powell said. “We just didn’t make free throws when we were up to stretch the lead.”
Bills was big for the Jackets, notching a team-high in both points (13) and rebounds (six). Boatwright kicked in eight points and Noah Gleason added seven points and five boards. Cory Berg notched four points and two rebounds, while Grohe and Carson Carpenter each had three points.
“Going down our lineup, everybody contributed tonight and that’s good to see and everybody was pulling for each other,” Coon said. “That’s what it takes for us. We have to get everybody on the same page and everybody pulling in the same direction.”
Anglin was the top scorer and rebounder for Highland with 13 points and eight rebounds. Stiffler kicked in seven points and five boards, while Andy Wheeler had six points and four rebounds. Ian Taylor came off the bench to notch four rebounds. Chase Carpenter had four points and three rebounds and Noah Dado added two points and three boards.
For the season opener, the crowds made it to Sparta, with two raucous student sections in a packed gym at Highland.
“This is what high school basketball is about – great community support, two tremendous student sections and it’s loud,” Powell said. “I’m really proud of both of our communities for coming out.”
The Jackets, now at 1-0, have a quick turnaround as they play on the road today against Westerville North, with a freshman tip at 2 p.m. Highland (0-1) returns to its home floor Tuesday to take on Centennial, starting with JV action at 6 p.m.