By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON —
Mt. Vernon is hoping a little momentum helps its postseason chances.
The Rams ended the regular with three victories in its final five games. Mt. Vernon beat Lovejoy, Marion and Effingham down the stretch with losses to state-ranked Carbondale and rival Centralia. Mt. Vernon led for most of the game before the Orphans rallied to claiming a one-point win in the regular season finale. The Rams now travel to the 3A regional in Herrin to face Marion tonight.
“I like the pace we're playing a lot more now,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “I think we're playing a little bit better on the defensive end than what we were earlier.”
The positive play comes on the heels of the Rams struggling through the month of January and early February. During the six-week stretch Mt. Vernon stumbled to a 3-7 mark.
“I think we're playing a lot better than what we did around Christmas, January time, but we've got three games where we had a great opportunity to win the game and not got any of the three,” Gamber said.
Those three losses came at Jerseyville along with home defeats to Carbondale and Centralia.
“We easily could have won all three of those games and didn't win one of them,” Gamber said. “That kind of hurt.”
Mt. Vernon lost four games in the month of February by a combined 16 points. The biggest margin was a 75-66 home defeat to South Seven Conference champ Carbondale.
Gamber, who surpassed the 100 career win plateau this season, is searching for his first regional title as Mt. Vernon coach. The last school title came in Doug Creel's final season in 2008.
The Rams started the season with six consecutive wins and an uptempo offense that saw Mt. Vernon pouring in the points. The Rams won the Herrin Pyramid Plus Tournament title over the week of Thanksgiving.
After struggling in a double-digit loss to Effingham at the Salem Invitational Tournament, the Rams started transitioning back to their traditional more patient approach on offense.
Now Mt. Vernon enters the regional play with a concrete identity on offense and defense that will be tested again tonight against Marion.
Ten of the Rams 27 regular season games came against the talent loaded South Seven Conference. Carbondale ended the regular as the fourth ranked team in 3A. Cahokia, Centralia and Althoff also received votes for the top 10.
Each game in the 3A Herrin regional was moved back a day. Herrin and Massac County opened action Tuesday night with the opener. The tournament continues today with semifinal action and concludes Friday night with the championship.
Paul Hines is the sports editor at the Register-News.