February 28th, 2011

Defending Champ Mercy Eliminates Valkyries

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Defending Champ Mercy Eliminates Valkyries
photo by Chris Jung

Jaguars advance in regional tournament with 67-48 win

Monday night's Mercy Academy-Sacred Heart Academy clash in the Class Act Seventh Region Tournament opening round pitted state championship experience against an entire starting lineup of veteran experience.

And in the end, it was the defending state champion Jaguars who were left standing following this heavyweight postseason matchup between a pair of perrenial powerhouse rivals, as Mercy eliminated the Valkyries with a 67-48 win at Atherton High School.

Senior Juliann Miller and junior Courtney Roush scored 16 points each to lead the way for their team. They were two of four players in double figures, joining senior Lauren Faris (12) and sophomore Whitney Hartlage (10) in a balanced offensive attack for Mercy.

Roush also pulled down a co-game-high 11 rebounds for an impressive double-double effort.

“I always tell her to be my stud, and she was my stud today,” said Mercy Head Coach Mark Evans said of Roush.

The Jaguars, who only surrendered the lead once throughout the contest - an 8-7 SHA lead with 2:15 to go in the opening quarter - outrebounded Sacred Heart 45-30 during the game and once again used its trademark physical defense to create opportunities.

“We knew we had to play defense. We knew we had to rebound. And I thought all my kids played really well,” said Evans. “We got block after block after block under the basket when (Sacred Heart) was going to its best kids. And when we were able to get stops, I felt pretty good.”

Mercy managed to take a 22-18 halftime lead into the locker room at the break, despite shooting 25.7 percent from the field during the first two quarters. The Jags managed to sustain its lead at the free throw line, where Evans' squad went 7-of-10 in the first half.

A 3-pointer by SHA freshman Raven Merriweather and an old-fashioned three-point play by senior Maddie Peabody cut the Mercy lead to 25-24 with 3:16 to go in the third quarter, and a point-blank shot by senior Annamarie Campbell would have given the Valkyries its first lead since early in the game.

But Campbell's attempt rimmed out, Mercy senior Emily Goetz gobbled up one of her game-high 10 defensive rebounds, and the Jaguars went on to extend its lead back to nine points, 35-26, after three quarters of play.

“In the first half I felt like we were a little tight. We weren’t having a real good time and missing some layups,” said Evans. “But in the second half we loosened up and played great.”

The wheels began to come off for Sacred Heart in the fourth quarter. And after Miller laid in a putback off her own miss to open the final period, giving Mercy an 11-point lead, an unusual scene played out on the SHA bench.

With 6:18 to go in the game, an aggressive drive and layup by Peabody appeared to cut Mercy's lead to eight points, but the senior point guard was called for an offensive foul, drawing an animated reaction from the Sacred Heart bench. As a result, a technical foul was called and Mercy got two free throw shots and possession of the ball.

The sequence would eventually lead to Mercy taking a 41-30 lead.

SHA would cut the deficit to nine poitns on two more occasions after that, but never got closer than that.

And after SHA senior and Bellarmine University signee Morgan Clemons fouled out, the Jaguars finished the final 5:20 of the game on a 24-14 run, handing the Valkyries its largest defeat of the season. Sacred Heart's largest margin of defeat entering Monday's game had been six points, which came to Hollywood Christian Academy (FL) on Dec. 29 during the Junior Orange Bowl Girls Basketball Classic in Miami.

“Today, I just decided going in, we’re going to let our hair fly, we’re going to get after them and play straight up man (defense),” said Evans. “I can’t afford for them to get so many good looks against match-up zone. What I learned (from our last matchup) was, ‘play man-to-man’.”

That "in your face" defensive approach certainly disrupted a usually-polished Sacred Heart offense that had only scored 48 points or less during just one other game during the year.

“We had about three or four possessions in a row when we came down and didn’t get off a good shot,” said Sacred Heart Head Coach Donna Moir. “And then finally Mercy scored, Campbell got her fourth foul, and I thought that was kind of a big momentum shift. That kind of put our backs against the wall.”

Campbell and her fellow frontcourt senior, Clemons, both played with foul trouble for the majority of the game, resulting in just ten field goal attempts for a duo that usually factors heavily in the scoring column, including a combined 27 points in SHA's regular season win over Mercy on Feb. 4.

“Our coaches talked about it after the game, and we didn’t really feel like we saw anything we hadn’t seen or weren’t prepared for,” said Moir. “It just came down to making plays, and we just didn’t hit those shots that we needed to. When our post players – Campbell and Clemons – only shoot the ball ten times, that’s not good for us. And I guess some of that could be credited to Mercy’s defense.”

Senior Hannah Washle put together one of her best offensive games of the year in the losing effort, stepping up in the absence of her senior teammates. Washle (10 points) was one of three Valkyries in double figures. She was joined by senior Monica McGreal (10 points) and Peabody's team-high 12 points. Peabody also posted game-highs in rebounds (7) and steals (3) in her final game as a Valkyrie.

Moir said that saying goodbye to this specific set of seniors will be extremely difficult.

“Yeah, (the loss) did (come at a bad time),” said Moir. “It’s just really hard to say goodbye to a group of six seniors that, for four years, have given you everything they had. They never missed a practice, they never missed a workout. They just showed tremendous leadership for four years.”

For Moir, her relationship with the seniors goes well beyond basketball in most instances.

“I’ve known Maddie Peabody since she’s been born. I was in her Mom’s wedding,” said Moir. “You’ve got those special relationships with kids. Annamarie Campbell was the third “Campbell” that I’ve coached, and to say ‘goodbye’ to that family is hard. They’re just special kids who grew up wanting to play Sacred Heart basketball, and I always saw it ending with us going to Diddle (Arena). I just feel bad for all of us that we didn’t accomplish that goal.”

But on Monday night, it was another senior - Mercy's Juliann Miller - who willed her team to the 19-point victory. The gritty guard fearlessly flashed to the basket on several occasions, scoring when she beat her defender or dishing when the defense crashed on her penetration.

“I thought she spent so much energy on defense early in the game, that she spent herself a little bit and got a little passive on the offensive end,” said Evans. “At halftime, we just said, ‘hey baby, you’re the one that needs to give us something’.”

And give something she did.

Miller finished with the aforementioned 16 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field, and knocked down 8-of-9 free throw attempts during the game. As a team, Mercy finished 29-of-36 (80.6 percent) from the charity stripe. She also pulled down six rebounds and dished a pair of assists during an emotionaly-charged performance in the quarerfinal victory.

Goetz matched Co. Roush's rebound total with 11 boards of her own. That duo combined for 23 points and 22 rebounds.

This was Mercy's second win of the year over SHA, as the Jags ended up winning the season series over the Valkyries 2-1. Mercy defeated Moir's team 53-51 on Dec. 22 in the Republic Bank Classic semifinals in Lexington.

With the win on Monday, Mercy advances to the Seventh Region semifinals against Jeffersontown and its crafty head coach, John Kyser.

“It’s a trip game….it’s a scary game,” said Evans. “They have a tremendous coach – a good friend of mine – and he has a way of to slow you down and make you look bad. He has a lot of little odd defenses. He mixes it up real well.”

J'town, who won its 24th game of the season and advanced to the semifinals with a 66-53 win over Fern Creek, did not play Mercy during the regular season.

The Jaguars and Chargers will tip at 3:30pm on Thursday at Bellarmine's Knights Hall.


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