January 29th, 2011

Jaguars Fall Short Of LIT Championship

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Jaguars Fall Short Of LIT Championship
photo by Brooke Ballard

Manual edges Mercy 48-46 to capture tourney title

Merely looking at the win-loss record from the 2010-11 series between Mercy Academy and DuPont Manual High School might make basketball fans in Kentucky conclude that Manual is superior to the Jaguars.

And following the Crimsons' 48-46 victory and dethroning of the defending Louisville Invitational Tournament champion Jags in the LIT Championship on Saturday night, it is accurate to say that Manual has the number of the overall defending state champions.

"I have nothing but positive things to say about the girls," said Mercy Head Coach Mark Evans. "For a bunch of kids to go and play a team like we played this morning and pull it out, for a bunch of kids to fight their tails off last night and take out Marion County with a last-second shot the way they did, and then to come in here tonight and play the late game and play like they did, you can't question their courage and heart. They were absolutely fantastic. I couldn't be any more proud of a bunch of kids."

Playing the LIT title game at Bellarmine University, Mercy trailed 48-47 late in the game, but only got off one shot from the field during the final 50 seconds of the contest. Trailing 48-46 with 21 seconds to go, Mercy senior point guard Faris got the ball to sophomore Whitney Hartlage, who was the hero in Friday's quarterfinal game after she hit a buzzer-beating basket to defeat Marion County.

This time, however, Hartlage wouldn't even get an attempt after she had the ball stripped away as she began to take a look at the basket. The game's final moments ticked away as Manual sprinted away with the ball.

For the second time this season, Manual played Mercy in a tournament championship game and used a high-pressure defense to disrupt the usually ironclad Jaguar gameplan. Mercy did beat Manual 62-59 in the Republic Bank Classic Championship in Lexington on Dec. 22. But Manual won the regular season matchup 63-52 earlier this month.

But if Manual is to advance to the Sweet 16 out of Region 7 in about one month's time, the Crimsons will likely have to find a way to defeat Mercy one more time. And that's a matchup that the KHSAA would gladly welcome in regional tournament play.

So were the state's two best teams on the floor during Saturday's LIT Championship?

"I think they might have been tonight. But it only takes one day to trip up and you're sitting at home watching," said Evans.

In the opening period, Faris and Hartlage hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Mercy ahead 10-9, but it was Manual that would use the long ball to reclaim the lead and take control in the second quarter, as Manual's April Wilson hit a trey to put the Crimsons ahead 16-10.

After Manual took an 18-10 lead, Faris pulled off one of the fanciest moves of the night, as the senior stole a Crimsons pass, drove hard to the basket, and delivered an on-target, around-the-back pass to a trailing Emily Goetz. On the layup attempt, Goetz was checked to the floor and would make one of two free throws on the play to cut the Manual lead to 18-11.

But it was a dreadful quarter of shooting for Mercy, who was able to stay alive on free throw shooting. Mercy senior Juliann Miller scored the first and only field goal of the second quarter at the 2:22 marked, which again cut the Manual deficit to 26-18. Miller, who had seven points in the quarter and led Mercy with nine in the first half, carried the load for a struggling Mercy offense.

"(Manual) gets down and they get after you, and they play very good defense. They're very physical," said Evans. "They play really hard and everything you do is challenged by that. You don't get any easy looks. You don't get easy open on the wings. They're aggressiveness is quality. They play really hard and they take you out of your offense."

After trailing 31-20 at halftime, Mercy began to chip away at the Manual lead midway through the third quarter. And that initiative was given a big shot in the arm at the 3:40 mark when Manual center and LIT All-Tournament MVP Mechael Guess picked up her fourth foul of the game.

With Guess on the bench, Mercy got within 36-31 on a 3-pointer by Hartlage and then to 39-35 after a pair of free throws by Courtney Roush. After three quarters, Mercy found itself in the middle of a two-possession game, trailing 41-35.

In the fourth quarter, Faris kept the Manual lead at four points with a drive and running basket that banked in high off the glass at the 7:02 mark, making the score 41-37. Two minutes later, Miller appeared to tie the score on a hard drive and layup, but she was called for a charge and offensive foul, keeping the score at 41-39 with 5:12 to go in the game.

Manual didn't score a point in the fourth quarter until Guess made two free throws at the 4:04 mark, giving the Crimsons a 43-39 lead. But the scoring drought finally caught up to Guess and Co., as a buckey by Christine Roush and two free throws by Hartlage finally got the Jags over the hump and tied the game at 43-43 with 3:01 remaining.

After Manual took the lead again on a rim-rattling jumper by Nicole Lauterbach, Goetz tied the game again with a free throw with 1:23 to go.

Faris then had an opportunity to tie the game once more with 23 seconds to go, but only made 1-of-2 free throws, allowing Manual to keep a 47-46 advantage. Wright made 1-of-2 free throws on the other end to stretch the lead to 48-46 and, as mentioned, Mercy would not get another chance to tie the score or potentially win the game.

"Give Manual credit," said Evans. "Both teams gave everything they had in that game. Both teams fought their tails off and they had a shot fall, and we didn't. We missed a few more free throws than normal, but I'm not really worried about that. That's no big deal. We'll make them next time."

Miller led three double figures with 12 points and seven rebounds. Faris and Hartlage both had 11 points each for the Jags in the losing effort. Courtney Roush finished with six points and five boards, while Goetz had nine rebounds. Christine Roush had four points and four rebounds in limited action due to foul trouble. She was one of two Jaguars, and four players total in the game, to foul out.

But it was Faris and Miller that truly shined, despite Mercy's team loss. The senior duo was resillient all night and Evans praised them both for handling the Manual pressure with poise.

"They were studs with composure," said Evans. "Our perimeter play was fantastic. We kind of lost it there in the first, second quarter, but I have my own personal reasons as to why that happened. But the bottom line is they fought through a lot and they're definitely leaders. I think that by looking at our faces smiles and things like that (after the game), I think we know we're really good. And if you can come out of (the LIT) having a lot of confidence, then I think that's what you want."

Manual was led by Kara Wright, who was the only Crimson player in double figures with 10 points. She also had seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Manual also finished 6-of-18 from the three-point line and go the victory regardless of the fact that they were outrebounded by the Jags.

Mercy's Hartlage and Christine Roush were joined on the LIT All-Tournament Team by Sacred Heart Academy's Morgan Clemons and Monica McGreal.

Mercy (18-4) will return to Bellarmine's Knights Hall on Feb. 4 to take on rival Sacred Heart. SHA (16-4) was defeated by the same DuPont Manual team by two points in the LIT semifinals on Saturday morning.


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