The Mercer County girls’ basketball team had one goal in mind from the outset this season — bring home the program’s first state championship. And now the Titans are one win away from turning dream into reality. Behind big games from their three Division 1 commits, the Titans fought off a scrappy Murray squad 67-60 in the semifinals of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen at Northern Kentucky University.
Emmy Souder’s 19 points led the Titans to their first berth in the finals in school history. The NKU commit hit 9 of 10 free throws and 2 of 3 shots from the perimeter. Louisville commit Seygan Robins added 16 points, hitting 13 of 17 free throws and controlling the ball late in the fourth quarter as Murray tried to extend the game by fouling. But the most important factor for the Titans might have been Emma Davis’ nine-point eruption within a minute and a half at the start of the second quarter. The junior nailed three-pointers on three straight possessions to give Mercer a 22-15 lead.
“The last one I thought I got blocked but I didn’t. I thought ‘All right, here’s our momentum, this is when we’re gonna start going,’” she said.
In Friday’s quarterfinal win, it was Davis’ defense on Clark County’s Kennedy Igo that helped keep the Titans’ run alive — Igo was red-hot before Davis was assigned to her but she managed just one second-half field goal. On Saturday, a day after going scoreless, it was her offense. The Southeast Missouri commit finished with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
“We all know it’s there, it’s confidence with Emma,” said Mercer County Coach Chris Souder. “She didn’t get a Division 1 offer for nothing. We really needed a pickup and like our A.D. said, it was a heat check there.”
Murray refused to let its historic run end without a fight. The Tigers became just the second 1st Region school to reach back-to-back Sweet Sixteens. On Saturday they fell behind by 10 points in the second quarter and trailed by seven at halftime, but they tied the game at 49-49 on a three-pointer from Brittany Lawson early in the fourth quarter.
“If we were going to have a chance to come back, I knew I was going to have to step up and shoot the ball, even if I’m just a role player sometimes,” said the senior guard.
Junior guard Macey Turley led the Tigers with 20 points. Senior forward and Tennessee-Martin commit Maddie Waldrop had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Waldrop scored seven in the fourth quarter as Murray tried to keep pace, but Mercer County went 14 of 17 from the line in the period to seal the win.
Chris Souder said that when the Titans put together a brutal schedule that included games against nine highly rated out-of-state teams (against whom Mercer went 5-4), they had this weekend in mind. Now that their shot at a state championship is on the horizon, Souder said the Titans are ready to seize the moment.
“Last year we were in the losing interview in the final four and that was one of our goals all year, to get back to this level and get to the next step,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet. It’s incredible the way this program has evolved … You only dream of playing in a state championship and getting up on that podium and we’re not there yet, we’ve got one more game.”
Josh Sullivan; 859-231-3225