After its quarterfinal game against Holmes on Friday afternoon, Mercer County head coach Chris Souder recalled a good omen the team experienced during its practice at Xavier University on Thursday.
He extended a challenge to his niece Seygan Robins.
“We have little competitions… I told her ‘if you hit this three I’ll buy you a milkshake.’ So she goes out there and hits the three as usual. Then after practice she goes to midcourt and says ‘if I hit this shot we’re taking state.’”
Robins hit the shot. And though it’s still too early to crown the Titans champions, they’re one step closer after a 59-55 win over the Bulldogs that set up a Sweet 16 semifinal bout with Franklin County, whom Mercer beat 75-66 at home Jan. 14.
Robins, who already has a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky as a sophomore, led the Titans with 21 points. She helped put the exclamation point on a dominant first half for Mercer County, zipping a pass to Lexy Lake on a fast break for a corner three as the buzzer sounded, giving the Titans a 34-22 halftime lead.
Lake and her sister Faith Lake each went 2-for-3 from the perimeter for Mercer County, which shot 45.5 percent from the field while holding Holmes to 29.1 percent shooting.
Emma Souder (another niece of the coach) went 4-for-5 from the field for eight points and led the Titans with 10 rebounds. The team had 14 assists on the afternoon, led by Lyric Houston’s six.
Holmes chipped away at the double-digit hole after halftime, led by Jynea Harris, who had 10 of her team-high 19 points after halftime, and Kamari Graham, who scored 11 of her 13 after the break. But Holmes could get no closer than four points in the fourth quarter, as the Titans hit seven free throws in the final three minutes before Jaynice Stovall sank a meaningless three at the buzzer for the Bulldogs to set the final score.
Coach Souder said their ability to weather Holmes’ comeback bid in the fourth quarter demonstrates the marked difference he’s seen in the Titans’ level of maturity this year.
“It’s amazing how much we’ve grown,” said Coach Souder. “Great composure. …we just kept saying ‘come on, they’re gonna have to outscore you by this amount.’ They just kept battling and did what good teams do.”
Souder said the early-season victory over Franklin County won’t amount to much when the teams tip off Saturday with a spot in the championship game on the line.
“You can throw that (win) out the window,” he said. “They’re here for a reason too ... it’ll be a great ballgame, as a final four game should be.”
No. 3 butler plays on
No. 3 Butler, with possession of the ball and tied with Elizabethtown at 59-59, gave the ball to Janna Lewis for a last shot and the junior came through with a runner in the lane for a 61-59 upset of the No. 1 Panthers.
It was Lewis’ 20th point in the showdown. Most of the current Butler players were around two years ago when it beat Elizabethtown in the state title game.
Miss Basketball favorite Erin Boley scored 22 points for E-town with nine rebounds and four assists.
The Bearettes (29-5), who boast one of the deepest rosters in the state, advance to play Murray in Saturday’s 8 p.m. semifinal. The winner advances to Sunday’s 2 p.m. finals.
Hot-shooting Macey Turley scored 25 points and Murray beat Owensboro Catholic 60-43 in their quarterfinal match.
Turley made 8 of 11 from the field, including 5 of 6 from three-point range, and hit 4 of 5 from the free-throw line. Murray shot 58 percent (21 for 36) from the field, made 6 of 12 from long range and 12 of 15 foul shots.
Maddie Waldrop had 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists for Murray (35-1), which extended its winning streak to 29. Murray beat Owensboro Catholic twice during the regular