After letting an 18-point lead slip to just six in the first half, Mercy turned up the defensive pressure to open the third quarter and smothered Knott County Central on the way to an 85-56 first-round rout to begin day two of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena on Thursday.
Mercy sophomore forward Taziah Jenks led all scorers with 31 points, damaging the Patriots all over the floor with drives, jumpers and put-backs and going 10-of-11 at the foul line.
Mercy, the 6th Region champs, looked to be on its way to an easy win early, jumping to a 10-0 lead to open the game (the first eight of those points by Jenks). But Knott’s Kamryn Thornsberry and Jada Higgins helped the Patriots claw back into the game.
Down 17 in the first quarter, three-pointers by Thornsberry and Higgins helped the Patriots cut the lead to 27-18 to end the first quarter.
Mercy (23-9) pushed the lead back to 18 points twice in the second quarter only to see another Higgins three and two more from Thornsberry help cut the lead back to 46-40 at halftime. Thornsberry and Higgins each finished the half with 11 points. Unfortunately for the Patriots (24-10), Thornsberry got shut out in the second half and Higgins got just two more points for the game.
“When we first walked into the locker room (at half) it looked like we were losing,” Mercy Coach Keith Baisch said. “They put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed, and it’s all about just going out there and having fun in the second half and playing the way we’re capable of.”
Boyd County 53, Webster County 38: Savannah Wheeler scored a game-high 14 points to lead the 16th Region champion Lions to the semifinals, where they’ll face Manual at 8 p.m. on Friday.
Payton Shears added 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting and Harley Paynter scored 11 points for Boyd County (28-4), which won its 10th straight game. Jamie Winstead scored a team-high 12 points for Webster County (28-7).
Ryle 61, Simon Kenton 56: Ryle quickly overcame a six-point halftime deficit by scoring the first seven points of the second half, and the teams battled toe-to-toe the rest of the way in the Sweet Sixteen’s final first-round game.
Ryle (30-6) moves on to play Mercy in Friday night’s 6:30 p.m. quarterfinal game.
The 9th Region champs sealed the outcome when three different players — Maddie Scherr, Lauren Schwartz and Jaiden Douthit — made two free throws each in the final 38 seconds. Ryle shot only nine free throws the entire game and made seven.
Scherr led Ryle with 21 points. Schwartz contributed 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds and also blocked four shots, Douthit finished with 11 points.
Allyson Niece led the way for Simon Kenton (20-11) with 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Wednesday’s late game
Clark County 70, Harlan County 56: Kennedy Igo, Clark County’s star sophomore point guard, led the Cardinals into a Friday quarterfinal against Elizabethtown with 22 points and six assists. She was 7-for-12 from the floor and perfect from behind the three-point arc (4-for-4) and the free-throw line (4-for-4).
Shamaya Behanan added 21 points and eight rebounds for Clark County (27-7); she was 6-for-8 from the field and 9-for-9 from the charity stripe.
Harlan County star Blair Green, a Miss Basketball finalist who’s signed with the University of Kentucky, finished with 19 points, five assists and four rebounds. It was the the first girls’ Sweet Sixteen appearance in Harlan County’s history. The Black Bears finished 28-3.
Behanan and Igo both scored double their averages in the victory. Igo was blunt in her assessment as to why she felt comfortable shooting the ball on the big stage.
“It’s not really the gym,” Igo said. “I just know we’ve come here to take care of business, and I come to play.”
Herald-Leader staff writers Josh Moore and Josh Sullivan contributed to this report.