Mercer County’s lineup of standout seniors — Emma Davis, Faith Lake, Lexy Lake, Seygan Robins and Emma Souder — saved its best for last.
The Titans defeated Mercy Academy, 74-34, in the 57th St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen basketball state championship Sunday at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.
Mercer County won its second straight state title. It became the first school to win consecutive girls’ championships since Lexington Catholic won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. Mercer County is the 11th program to win multiple state titles, and is the third county school to achieve that feat (joining Laurel County, which no longer exists, and Marshall County).
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The 40-point margin of victory matched the largest ever in a girls’ championship game; Georgetown defeated Hardyville, 40-0, in the 1925 finals. It was the largest state finals victory since the KHSAA renewed its sponsorship of a girls’ basketball championship in 1975.
It was over by the second quarter. A 20-0 run beginning at the 3:33 mark of the first quarter and ending on a Mercy free throw with 4:44 left in the second period allowed Mercer County to build a 33-7 lead. The defending champs led 52-14 at halftime.
“We knew we had one in us so we said, ‘Let’s save the best for last.’ That’s what I huddled ’em up for right there before we started the game,” Titans Coach Chris Souder said. “‘Let’s kick some butt and loosen up here,’ and the whole starting lineup said ‘Let’s roll.’ That’s just what they are. I should learn to never doubt that bunch.”
Mercer County (35-3) ended the season on a 14-game win streak. Mercy (25-10) had won nine straight games and 13 of its last 14 coming into the finals. The Jaguars averaged 83.9 points this season.
“They were definitely the hottest team in the tournament,” Souder said. “We were concerned about that. I’ll be honest with you, it was 52-14 at halftime and I thought it might be 52-48. ... Our defense went to another level these last two games.”
The Titans held Clark County to a season-low 27 points in the semifinals. They only scored 44 in that victory.
“I think last night really helped us. We didn’t score many points but our defense was insane,” Souder said. “We tried to get them to relax and told them to just worry about the game that you’re in.”
Souder said his team looked more relaxed upon its return to the finals stage, and it showed on offense. Mercer County had its best offensive game of the tournament, shooting 57.1 percent from the floor. The Titans connected on 16 of their 26 three-point attempts, breaking their own tournament record for successful three-pointers in a single game (14 against Boyd County last year).
“I think we were pretty loose, suprisingly,” said Seygan Robins, who was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament for the second straight season. “I thought we’d be pretty tense with the possibility that we could lose and it’s our last game, but everybody came out and played really loose and I was proud of that.”
Robins, who has signed with the University of Louisville, had eight points, seven assists, three rebounds and a steal in 23 minutes Sunday. She was considered the frontrunner for Miss Basketball coming into the season. The winner of that award will be revealed during a ceremony Tuesday in Lexington.
“How is she not Miss Basketball now? I know voting’s done but back-to-back state champions?” Souder said. “And she’s barely the leading scorer on our team, in fact she might not be. But she leads us in so many other things. She’s the straw that stirs the drink for our team.”
Davis and Lexy Lake scored 17 points apiece to lead the Titans. Lake was 6-for-6 from the floor and 5-for-5 from behind the three-point line. Davis was 5-for-6 from long distance. Emmy Souder was one rebound shy of a double double, ending with 15 points, nine boards, four steals and three blocks.
Each of Mercer County’s five seniors scored more than 1,000 points in their careers and has signed to play basketball in college. Davis (Tennessee-Martin) and Souder (NKU) will play at the Division I level while twins Faith and Lexy are going to Campbellsville University.
Before this group came through Mercer County had made the state tournament only once, in 2003. The Titans have ended their last four seasons in the state tournament; they lost in the first round in 2015 and in the state semifinals in 2016 before winning two straight.
Mercer County set a school record for wins this season and went 126-19 over the last four seasons.
“It’s been amazing,” Faith Lake said. “It’s bittersweet. I’m sad it’s over. This is the last game I’ll play with my best friends but, I mean, I think we went out in a pretty good way. I don’t think we could’ve done much more.”
Chris Souder was even more definitive.
“There’s no doubt this has to go down as one of the greatest teams of all time,” he said.
MVP — Seygan Robins, Mercer County
Team — Hannah McCay, Owensboro Catholic; Karson Knight, Elizabethtown; Lauren Schwartz, Ryle; Jaela Johnson, Manual; Kennedy Igo, Clark County; Shamaya Behanan, Clark County; Harley Paynter, Boyd County; Savannah Wheeler, Boyd County; Taziah Jenks, Mercy; Hope Sivori, Mercy; Danielle Feldkamp, Mercy; Emma Davis, Mercer County; Faith Lake, Mercer County.