“We’ve gone two or three games in a row with maybe only one of us coming out,” said Horn, a forward.
Against Cartersville in last Saturday’s Region 5-3A championship, Vess left the game only when he was in foul trouble and when he fouled out. The starting five — Mosteller and Sanford are guards, while Swilling is a post — played the entire third quarter and logged close to 28 of the 32 minutes.
“It really depends on who we’re playing,” Vess said. “During the season, unless it’s Gordon Central or Cartersville, most of the starters will get a break. In games like Gordon Central, Cartersville or the state playoffs, you only sub if (for) foul trouble.”
Said Sanford of North Murray’s 69-58 first-round win against Hart County this past Wednesday at home: “We played (almost) 32 minutes.”
They can handle that because of the practice style, Ellis said.
“Our practices are fast-paced,” Ellis said. “We don’t slow down as far as practice goes.”
Plus, the seniors are used to passing to one another and watching one another score. They all started playing together in sixth grade and haven’t stopped since. For seven years, they have learned one another’s basketball pattern.
Mosteller and Sanford are the ball handlers. Horn’s 3-point stroke trumps all others on the roster. Swilling can score in transition and piles up hustle points. And Vess is the towering post player who, when at his best, can’t be stopped.
“Since we could dribble a basketball,” Horn said. “We became a team, all of us together, in sixth grade. But in rec leagues, we all were on each other’s team (in some combination), one way or another.”
The group was on the team last year — Swilling and Vess started, with the latter making The Daily Citizen’s 2012 All-Area Boys Basketball Team — when the Mountaineers won 21 games and reached the state tournament for the first time, losing 68-50 at Jefferson in the first round of the Class 2A bracket. It was just the program’s second season of varsity competition and included the first senior class — Cody Malone, Gavin Ledford, Jeremy Smith and Tyler Duckett.
This year, the new senior class became the program’s hub. And they brought new landmarks — the most wins in a season (22), first home state tournament game and first state tournament win — along with the responsibility of shouldering a young program’s deepest run yet.
“They are very comfortable with each other,” Ellis said. “They know each other’s mannerisms, each other’s tendencies. They know where each other is at.
“They trust each other. That makes it easier.”