HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – The offensive woes that plagued George Rogers Clark against Elizabethtown in the quarterfinals lingered over into Saturday’s Final Four matchup against Mercer County in the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament.
The Lady Cards committed more turnovers (11) than field goals made (10) in a 44-27 loss to the defending champs. What they may have fought through yesterday to get here, was too much to overcome against the tournament favorites.
“Tough night for GRC hoops,” Lady Cards coach Robbie Graham said. “Just couldn’t find the basket. We have to score points, we knew that coming in. I thought our defense was really good, we hold a team like that to 44 points. We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole.”
Mercer County was a team that hardly plays much zone, but worked their zone defense to a near flawless effort in the victory.
“I told the girls after the game ever since they’ve been in high school, that’s the best defensive performance they’ve ever had,” Lady Titans coach Chris Souder said. “We don’t play a lot of zone, we implemented it against Murray on Wednesday and after watching some film and things we decided we were going to go with it today. For some reason, we haven’t been able to guard a trash can lately, but when we play in that zone we did a great job of talking and communicating.”
After GRC’s Hayley Harrison got the scoring started in the first, they’d go cold, ice cold, failing to score the rest of the quarter, spanning 7:02 without a point as they trailed 11-2 going into the second.
The offensive woes continued to carry over into the second stanza. A Harrison 3-pointer ended over a nine minute drought without a point, at that point, they were trailing 14-5 with 5:36 left before halftime.
“We’ve seen a lot of zone this year so we were prepared for whatever. Just a tough go for us in the first half for whatever reason, we just couldn’t find the goal,” Graham said.
Meanwhile, the defending champs kept the foot on the gas pedal as they cleaned up on the offensive glass, snagging five offensive boards in the first half, often leading to kickouts for 3-pointers, the last of them a 3-pointer from Lexy Lake to make it 22-9. The score would remain that way over the final three minutes of the half as the Lady Titans took a 13-point lead into the break. Harrison had seven of the nine Lady Cards points at the break.
GRC opened the second half with a little more urgency. After falling down 25-10 on a Lexy Lake triple, the Lady Cards rattled off a 6-0 run to get back within nine. On their next possession, they had a chance to cut it to seven with numerous attempts after offensive rebounds, but the ball kept bouncing around and off the rim. Then Mercer made them pay with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to stretch the lead back out to 12.
“That was kind of the story of the game. We have three chances at it, just couldn’t put it in the hole to cut it to seven. They come down and hit a three and its back to 12. That’s tough. We were building momentum and some confidence and a little pep in our step,” Graham said.
The Lady Titans would build the lead to as big as 17 in the quarter before the Lady Cards closed with the final four points, trailing 33-20 heading into the fourth.
Kennedy Igo got her first points of the game to open the final frame and would remain within striking distance when Shemaya Behanan knocked down two free throws to make it 38-27, but the Lady Cards went scoreless the final 4:47 of the game to end their season at 28-8.
“I’m not one of those pat you on the back you got to the Final Four, I come with the expectation to come here and cut nets, but we’re still very excited with where we finished,” Graham said. “We’ll take a few weeks off after this and then get right back to doing what we came here for.”
The Lady Cards will be expected to make a return trip to the Sweet 16 next season as they return six of their top seven rotational players, losing just Behanan and Malaysia Hill to graduation.
Behanan led the Lady Cards with nine points and six rebounds. Harrison added eight. Maleaha Bell had six and Igo tallied four as the only players to enter the scoring column.
Mercer County will now look to repeat as state champion. After getting scares in their first two contests at BB&T, the Lady Titans led nearly wire-to-wire in the victory.
“Through the region and through this tournament we’ve been stressed a little bit trying to live up to the expectations of getting back here. We just tried to get the girls to relax and play the game that you’re in. They bought into that and it will be that again tomorrow,” Souder said.
The Lady Titans were led by Faith Lake’s 11 points, Emmy Souder added 10 points and seven rebounds. The two teams combined to shoot 22-of-66 from the field, the big difference maker being Mercer 7-of-19 from beyond the arc to GRC’s 1-of-12 effort.
MERCY 78, BOYD COUNTY 59
The Lady Jaguars used a 17-0 run to end the third quarter on their way to Sunday’s championship game against Mercer County.
Taziah Jenks led a balanced effort from the Lady Jaguars with 24 points as four players reached double figures in the victory.
The Lady Lions came in hot from beyond the arc, knocking down 22 3-pointers in thier first two games, but the live by it and die by it theory didn’t pay off Saturday night as they went 8-of-32 from the 3-point line.
Boyd County was paced by Savannah Wheeler and Harley Paynter with 22 points apiece. The loss ends their season at 29-5, winning their first two state tournament games in school history.
Mercy has now scored 256 points in their first three games of the tournament.
Sunday’s championship is set for 2 p.m.