Mercer County junior Seygan Robins drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key 15 seconds into the finals of the 56th St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen.
“It’s on. It’s back to Mercer basketball.”
That was Coach Chris Souder’s thought after that shot, which initiated a 10-1 run to start what finished as an 85-71 victory for the Titans over Franklin County on Sunday afternoon at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena. Mercer County earned its first basketball championship — boys’ or girls’ — and became the fourth program from the 12th Region to win a girls’ title, joining Laurel County, Pulaski County and Rockcastle County.
Box score: Mercer Co. 85, Franklin Co. 71
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Franklin County never got closer than seven points after the Titans’ initial burst. Mercer County, which set the single-game tournament record for made three-pointers (14) in the first round, made five more threes than the Flyers, connecting on 11 of 22 attempts in the finals and finishing with 37 for the tournament. Lexy Lake set a championship game record with five made triples.
When he took over at Mercer County 18 years ago, Souder never would have guessed the Titans would win a title with lethal marksmanship far away from the basket rather than a bruising interior game.
“Of course, I love to play that way and I’ve got the team to do it,” Souder said. “We don’t have a true post, so why not shoot and let it fly?”
Emmy Souder had 20 points to lead the Titans, whose 85 points were the second-most in a title game, behind M.C. Napier’s 88 points in the 1994 championship. Mercer County led 43-31 after the first 16 minutes, setting a record for points scored in the first half of the finals.
Robins, a junior who’s committed to the University of Louisville, finished with 19 points and seven assists. All five Titans starters — all committed to Division I schools — finished in double-figure scoring, typical of a group that got through a stacked schedule using a balanced attack rather than relying on one girl to take over night after night.
“That’s definitely one of our weapons, the fact that everybody can score and you can’t just face guard one of us cause somebody else is gonna step up, always,” Robins said.
Franklin County Coach Joey Thacker, whose team set a record for points scored by a losing team in the finals, said Robins has the best court vision of any player in Central Kentucky since Scott County’s Rebecca Gray.
“She’s so savvy, man,” Thacker said. “She keeps everybody involved and then she knows when to make a play, and that’s why she’s gonna be Miss Basketball (next year), because of her ability to keep everything off balance for the defense and everything balanced for them.”
Princess Stewart finished with a game-high 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting for the Flyers, who fell in the finals for the second straight season. This was Franklin County’s third straight season which ended in the Sweet Sixteen after a 35-year drought between Sweet Sixteen appearances. Four seniors — Rebecca Cook, Savannah Courtney, Sibre Morton and Stewart — will move on.
“The kids that we have right now are once-in-a-lifetime kids in terms of their responsibility, work ethic and love for the game,” Thacker said. “We lost to a better basketball team today but I’d still take mine any day.”
Mercer County likely will enter the 2017-18 season as the favorite to repeat. Lyric Houston, who will play college softball, will graduate, but five of the Titans’ top six scorers are juniors.
Before looking forward to a theoretical second trophy, the Titans will relish the program’s first, which morphed into a genuine target a couple of seasons ago.
“It’s always a dream, it’s always a goal,” Souder said. “But we talked about two years ago that it’s actually a realistic goal in the years coming. If everybody would stay the course, buy into the way we run the program, we just felt like it was going to be a special bunch.”
It proved Souder right.