February 24th, 2011

Mercy Falls To Manual 74-68 In District Final

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Mercy Falls To Manual 74-68 In District Final
photo by Chris Jung

Jags, Crimsons battle for fourth time this season

The Mercy Academy-DuPont Manual basketball rivalry sure does have a flare for the dramatic.

Having already met three times throughout the season, including matchups in the Republic Bank Classic and Louisville Invitational Tournament championship games, the Jaguars and Crimsons added a fourth battle - Wednesday's 25th District Tournament finals - to its list of classic clashes on big stages.

And for the third time in a row, Manual was the team that escaped victorious against the defending state champion Jags, defeating Mercy 74-68.

The win gives the Crimsons its fifth consecutive district title, all coming with wins over Mercy.

Kayla Styles had 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots, Mecheal Guess and April Wilson scored a co-team high 13 points a piece, and Raven Hester hit some clutch free throws down the stretch to give the Crimsons the edge in a district championship game that featured an extremely high level of physicality on both ends of the floor.

Mercy senior Juliann Miller (game-high 18 points) and sophomore Whitney Hartlage (4-of-6 3-pointers) did their parts to keep the Jaguars in the game and tried, on several occasions, to stage dramatic comebacks in the second half. But after Manual severely outrebounded the Jaguars to start the game, and 50-23 overall for the game, Head Coach Mark Evans' Mercy team dug a hole that was just too deep to crawl back out of.

"I think the first quarter was key. They came out and outrebounded us, built a ten-point lead, and were killing us on the offensive boards," said Evans. "Any time you give that many second opportunities to Manual, you're going to get beat. We were probably fortunate to even be in the game at the end, based on the first half and rebounding difference."

One of those "rebounding differences" came early in the game, as Manual grabbed six offensive rebounds in a row during a single possession, which eventually led to a Crimson bucket and 18-9 lead. Manual finished the opening period ahead 23-11.

Mercy managed to cut the Manual lead to five points, 36-31, by halftime and refused to back down against a fast and physical Manual team.

Manual, which finished 9-of-18 from the three-point line for the game, maintained its advantage to start the second half and even built a 46-37 lead with 3:11 to go in the third quarter. But that's when it started to rain in the Male High School gymnasium - 3's that is.

And following a crucial trey by sophomore Kayla Richardson to cut the Manual lead to 46-40, Hartlage drained back-to-back 3-pointers and pulled Mercy within 48-46.

A pair of countering triples by Manual's Hester and Lauren Bodine, however, quickly took the momentum back from Mercy and put the Crimsons ahead by eight to end the third quarter.

In the final period of play, Miller hit a 3-pointer in the corner for Mercy with 5:33 to go, cutting the Manual lead to 56-53. Hartlage hit her fourth long ball of the night three minutes later to cut make the score 64-60 in favor of the Crimsons, but that's as close as the Jags would get the rest of the way, and Manual went 8-of-15 from the free throw line late to seal the game.

"They seemed to answer us well," said Evans. "They did a nice job of finding big shooters and making big shots at the right time. Every time we would make a run, they would knock down a (3-pointer). But the bottom line is that (Manual) played really, really well tonight. They shot the ball extremely well and answered every time we made a push."

Joining Miller in double-figure scoring for Mercy was Hartlage (16) and Richardson (10). Senior Emily Goetz had six points and led her team in rebounding with six boards.

Miller, Hartlage, and senior point guard Lauren Faris were each named to All-District Tournament Team.

Despite having to settle for runner-up in the district, Mercy lives to play another day and is guaranteed a spot in next week's Seventh Region Tournament. Possibly in another game against Manual, which would be the fifth matchup between the two teams this season.

In 2009-10, Mercy lost to Manual in the district championship before eventually winning Region 7 and capturing the state title, but never got a shot at Manual, as the Crimsons lost to Christian Academy in overtime in the regional first round.

The regional pairings will be drawn and announced this weekend.


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