Mercer County fends off Owensboro Catholic’s upset bid
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky.—The state tournament is a place where upsets happen and legends are born, and one of these such games nearly happened on Friday afternoon at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena when defending state champion Mercer County saw a 17-point lead wither down to practically nothing.
But senior Emma Davis scored 21 points on 5-of-12 sniping from long range, and the Titans were able to come up with timely turnovers and make free throws down the stretch to hang on for a 67-66 victory over Owensboro Catholic in the quarterfinals of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament.
“That’s the true form of survive and advance,” Mercer County coach Chris Souder said. “Give Owensboro Catholic a lot of credit. We kind of had to play their game and we couldn’t get our transition game going, and they knocked down big shot after big shot. Give them a lot of credit.”
Mercer County (34-3) led 16-10 at the end of the first quarter, and the Titans took a 34-17 lead on a layup by Emmy Souder with 2:10 to go before halftime.
Sarah Beth Clemens then stepped up big time for the Lady Aces, engineering all of Owensboro Catholic’s points in a 10-3 run that trimmed Mercer County’s lead down to 37-27 at the intermission.
Both teams shot remarkably well in the first 16 minutes. Owensboro Catholic found the mark on 12-of-23 shots from the field overall and 2-of-4 from three-point range, but Mercer County cancelled out this solid shooting performance by netting 8-of-18 3-pointers in the first half alone. Senior and Louisville signee Seygan Robbins had 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting from long range at halftime.
The Titans opened up the second half with five unanswered points to build up a 15-point lead just a little over a minute into the third, but Owensboro Catholic came right back with a 7-0 run—a 3-pointer by Harvey Spencer making it 42-34 at the 3:29 mark.
Mercer County pushed its lead back to 14 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Emma Davis, but the Lady Aces ended the period on an 8-2 run to make it 50-42 going into the fourth.
Owensboro Catholic (27-8) trimmed the deficit to five on a jumper by Ellie Mitchell, and the Lady Aces trailed just 52-49 after a pair of free throws by Clemens with 5:10 left.
The two sides swapped baskets before a 3-pointer from the right corner by Lexy Lake gave Mercer County a 57-51 lead with 3:38 to go.
But Owensboro Catholic would not go down easy.
Mercer County extended its lead to 64-57 on a pair of free throws by Davis with 44 seconds left before Mackenzie Keelin answered with a 3-pointer for Owensboro Catholic to make it 64-60 with 34 seconds remaining.
Robins missed the front end of a one-and-bonus on the ensuing possession, and Clemens scored a tip-in to make it 64-62 with 14 seconds to go.
Robins—who was having difficulty making free throws down the stretch due to a malfunction of her contact lenses—once again missed the front end of an one-and-bonus to give the ball to the Lady Aces. Robins fouled Mitchell six seconds later, and Mitchell made 1-of-2 at the line to narrow the deficit to 64-63 with just eight seconds left.
Robins was finally able to find the mark on 1-of-2 free throws, and Owensboro Catholic turned it over on the ensuing possession. Faith Lake hit two free throws with four seconds left to put the game on ice—a 3-pointer by Keelin of the Lady Aces ultimately making the final score 67-66.
Owensboro Catholic was led in the loss by McKay with 24 points and nine rebounds while Clemen finished with 18 points and eight boards.
“I’m just proud of this group,” Owensboro Catholic coach Michael Robertson said. “I thought we left it all on the floor today. I thought we had to play a perfect game and we didn’t do that, but we did compete. I’m proud of them and I don’t have any complaints.”
Davis topped all Mercer County scorers with 21 points, and her five 3-pointers were a major factor in the win for the Titans.
“We told her in the regional tournament that I needed one of those from her,” Souder said. “She does it every year that we are here by having one of those games. I could tell early on that she was feeling it. She had 21 points, and we definitely needed all 21 of them (Friday).”
“(Davis) lit us up today,” Robertson said. “We can’t get let her get loose like that. After she hit three we should’ve recognized it, but we didn’t.”
Emmy Souder and Robins added 10 and 18 points, respectively, for the Titans, who shot 12-of-29 from three-point range on the afternoon.
Mercer County will now play in the semifinals on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. EST against George Rogers Clark. The Lady Cardinals advanced with a hard-fought 42-35 overtime victory over Elizabethtown in the second game of the afternoon session.
“I think sometimes we’ve won so much that people think we’re just going to blow everybody out,” Soulder said.”They know getting here that nothing is going to be easy and everybody is going to give you their best shot.”