High School Basketball

Defending state champions survive serious upset bid at Sweet Sixteen

Sitting on a 17-point lead in the closing minutes of the first half in the quarterfinals of the 57th St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen on Friday, it looked like defending state champion Mercer County was a shoo-in to breeze to its third straight Final Four. That was before a furious charge from Owensboro Catholic cut the Titans’ lead to just one possession with 14 seconds left in the game.

But a pair of clutch free throws from Faith Lake put the Titans ahead by four with four seconds to go. Owensboro Catholic’s Mackenzie Keelin sank an uncontested three-pointer at the buzzer, and Mercer County edged the Aces 67-66 to advance to the semifinals.

“Faith had been struggling from the foul line,” said Titans Coach Chris Souder. “And all the coaches were saying ‘don’t say anything to her, don’t say anything to her.’ So I wasn’t going to, and then (she hit) the two biggest free throws of her career.

“I guess that’s the true form of ‘survive and advance.’”

Without a big game from Emma Davis, the Titans might not have been in position to pull out the win. The senior wing scored 24 points and made five of Mercer’s 12 three-pointers.

“I gave her a big hug after it was over,” Souder said of Davis. “We told her in the regional tournament that I needed one of those from her ... and every year that we’re here she has one of these games. I could tell early she was feeling it.”

Miss Basketball candidate Seygan Robins was also dialed in on offense for the Titans. The 12th Region Player of the Year finished with 18 points and nine assists. Hannah McKay led Owensboro Catholic with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds.

Mercy 93, Ryle 78: Taziah Jenks scored 16 of her game-high 27 points in the second half as the Jaguars turned a one-point halftime lead into a rout. It was a back-and-forth fight that featured 17 lead changes, until Mercy took control until the final 14 minutes.

The Jaguars regained the lead for good, 48-47, on Danielle Feldkamp’s layup with 6:20 to play in the third quarter. They outscored the Raiders 45-31 the rest of the way.

Hope Sivori poured in 22 points for the Jaguars, making four of five three-pointers. Brie Crittendon led Ryle with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

Boyd County 71, Manual 53: Some of the hottest shooting of the Sweet Sixteen vaulted Boyd County into Saturday’s semifinals.

The Lady Lions (29-4) made 20 of 36 attempts from the field 12 of 22 three-point tries and 19 of 26 free throws in winning their 11th game in a row.

Junior point guard Savannah Wheeler led the way with 29 points. Joining her in double figures were Harley Paynter with 14 points, Charity Shears 13 and Payton Shears 12.

Boyd County took the lead, 8-5, on a three-pointer by Wheeler two minutes into the game and never trailed again.

Manual (22-9) came into the contest on a 10-game winning streak that included a win over Scott County in the first round of the Sweet Sixteen but struggled to put the ball in the basket against Boyd County. The Lady Crimsons shot 35 percent for the game (21-for-60).

Nila Blackford led Manual with 14 points and 16 rebounds.

Thursday’s late game

Ryle 61, Simon Kenton 56: Maddie Scherr scored 14 of her game-high 21 points after intermission as the Raiders erased a six-point halftime deficit to knock off the Pioneers for the third time this season.

Ryle took a 55-53 lead on Juliet McGregor’s layup with 2:01 to play. The Raiders forced turnovers on Simon Kenton’s next two possessions, then Scherr was fouled after a defensive rebound with 41 seconds to go. She sank both free throws for a 57-53 lead.

Ryle went 6-for-6 at the foul line inside the final 38 seconds to seal the win. Scherr, a sophomore guard who already boasts scholarship offers from Kentucky and Tennessee, was the Raiders’ best shooter. She made eight of 14 attempts including three of four from the perimeter. Lauren Schwartz had 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Ally Niece scored a team-high 18 points for Simon Kenton.

Josh Sullivan: 859-231-3225, @sullyjosh

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