For the second straight year, Mercer County is one of the final four girls’ basketball teams standing in Kentucky. After trailing most of the afternoon, the Titans took control in the fourth quarter Friday to knock off Clark County 58-47 in the quarterfinals of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA girls’ Sweet Sixteen at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.
Clark County seized momentum and a 43-39 lead as Kennedy Igo swished a pull-up three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer, moments after Mercer County star Seygan Robins was whistled for her fourth foul.
Mercer Coach Chris Souder subbed Robins out on defense throughout the final period, letting other Titans defenders smother the Cardinals’ offense while Robins took control of the game. The junior guard’s old-fashioned three-point play tied the game 43-43 and the Titans never trailed the rest of the way, holding the Cardinals to just four points in the fourth quarter.
“We missed a couple of easy ones in the fourth quarter and they came down and converted and the momentum kind of swung,” said Clark Coach Robbie Graham.
Robins scored seven of her game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter. The Louisville commit and surefire future Miss Basketball contender knocked down 11 of 13 free throws on the afternoon, driving to the basket for a bucket or a foul call seemingly at will.
“When you’ve got a girl like Seygan in there, I feel real comfortable with the ball in her hands late,” Souder said. “It’s pretty uncharacteristic that she missed two (free throws), but we decided if we got the lead late they were having a hard time containing her so we were just gonna milk the clock.”
Igo led Clark County with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, scoring 13 in the first half as the Cardinals took a 31-30 lead into halftime. But junior forward Emma Davis was assigned to shadow Igo in the second half and held her to just one field goal the rest of the way.
It seemed every time the Cardinals had a chance to widen the gap in the first half, Robins or Emmy Souder responded for Mercer. Souder had seven offensive rebounds and 11 points before halftime. The junior, who’s committed to Northern Kentucky, finished with 17 points and 15 boards.
“Emmy was huge,” said Chris Souder. “She obviously likes this floor … She’s my niece so I’m really hard on her, but I gave her a big kiss after the game. She battled all night long and controlled the glass.”
The Titans (29-6) will look to take the next step when they face Murray (28-5) in Saturday’s first semifinal. Last year Mercer County fell in the semifinals to state runner-up Franklin County.
Clark County finished the season 30-5. Graham said that once the sting of Friday’s loss wears off, Clark County’s departing seniors will be able to look back on their 10th Region championship season with pride.
Senior forward Elizabeth Hardiman agreed. “I feel like we’ve set a high standard. We’ve set a foundation and the girls who are coming back know what it takes to get here now,” she said.
Murray takes down No. 1 Butler
Murray’s plan against the top-ranked team in the state on Friday was to break the game into 16 four-minute contests. The Tigers didn’t win each of those mini battles, but at the end of four quarters they’d knocked off defending champion Butler 65-56 to reach the semifinals.
“I’m not sure in the third quarter we can say we won any of those four minutes, but we were able to withstand their runs,” said Tigers Coach Rechelle Turner. “I felt good about it from the tip. I could just tell by the energy and the body language of our kids that they were gonna go toe-to-toe with the best team.”
Junior guard Macey Turley gave the Bearettes (33-3) fits. She finished with 25 points, sinking 18 of 21 free throws. Butler’s calling card is a ferocious full-court defense that also traps in the frontcourt, and Turley routinely beat the press and attacked the basket.
She went down hard twice in the fourth quarter, favoring her ankle and her shoulder. But she helped the Tigers sink nine of 10 free throws in the final four minutes to seal the win.
Turley said there was no chance she was letting her bumps and bruises keep her on the bench down the stretch.
“I feel great right now,” she said. “I knew I had to get back out there and help my teammates. They took care of me when I wasn’t out there so I had to get back in.”
Senior forward Maddie Waldrop, a UT Martin commit who scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds, said it felt extra sweet to avenge Murray’s loss to Butler in the semifinals last year.
“To me that just added fuel to the fire,” she said. “It’s hard to lose to the same team over and over again.”
Thursday’s late game
Holmes 45, Grayson County 32: Holmes jumped out to an 8-0 lead less than three minutes into the game and never looked back, knocking off Grayson County to set up a quarterfinal matchup Friday with Henderson County.
Grace White knocked down a jumper to get Grayson within 17-14 at halftime, but Holmes went on a 13-2 third-quarter run to put the Cougars away. Laila Johnson scored six of her game-high 14 points for the Bulldogs during that critical stretch. Johnson made five of six shots from the field. Holmes shot 48 percent as a team while holding Grayson County to 31 percent shooting, including a 1-for-16 clip from the perimeter. White led Grayson County with a game-high 16 points and nine rebounds.