March 3rd, 2011

Champs One Win Away From Return To State

Chris Jung

Senior Writer


Champs One Win Away From Return To State
photo by Chris Jung

Mercy advances to regional finals with J'town victory

There haven't been many instances this season when Mercy Academy Head Coach Mark Evans has had to work hard to motivate his team.

But Thursday night, with his team up a mere five points at halftime over Jeffersontown in the Class Act Seventh Region Tournament semifinals, Evans used a direct approach when addressing his team at the midway break.

"I walked into the locker room and asked the kids, 'do you want to lose the basketbal game?'," said Evans. "I told them, 'you're all trying to do it by yourselves, you don't have smiles on your faces. It's not about your lack of effort....it's just that you're trying so hard that you're all in these little shells and not you're not enjoying the moment'."

It was half truth, half hypothetical, but the meaning was concrete, and the point was quickly taken.

And clearly wanting to win the game, advance to the regional finals, and receive the opportunity to play for a return trip to the coveted Sweet 16 field, the defending state champion Jaguars responded with a swagger against the Chargers, scoring 25 points in the third quarter and using a 9-0 run out of the gate to stretch its lead to 34-20, en route to an eventual 64-44 win over J'town.

"You can't flinch. You can't be afraid of a game. You can't let fear take over what you do," said Evans. "When we got out and we got a few easy baskets early, and we kind of hit them quick, we really didn't have the energy, the celebration, the swarming of the basketball. It was like we were out there going through a real tough job - just grinding it out. And you can't play basketball that way. We're a team that thrives on turnovers, and nice plays, and finishing, and momentum, and transition, and things such as that. And if you're nervous and tight, sometimes nerves will freeze you."

But despite the tense demeanor of the Jags in the first half, Mercy came out firing in the second half and got a pair of 3-pointers from sophomore Whitney Hartlage during that key 9-0 run, sparking Evans' team.

Mercy went on to extend its lead to 17 points on a Christine Roush layup with 3:23 to go in the third quarter, turning crucial turnovers into baskets.

J'town did get the Jaguar lead back down to ten points before the fourth quarter began, but a pair of free throws by Catherine Dircksen, a bucket from senior Juliann Miller, and a back-breaking 3-pointer from Kayla Richardson to start the final period, pushed Mercy ahead by 20 points, which ended up being the final margin of victory.

Hartlage, Roush, and Miller all finished with 14 points a piece in the win. Hartlage and Roush also combined for 11 rebounds and three steals. Richardson poured in nine points on a 4-of-9 shooting performance from the field, and senior Emily Goetz contributed her usual consistent line of seven points and six boards.

J'town got a team-high 14 points out of guard Danielle Betts, who exploded for nine points herself in the third quarter alone, single-handedly keeping the Lady Chargers in the game. Betts' teammate, six-foot-two center Lenette Holt, finished with 13 points, but nine of those came in the first half. Aisjah Roan, another leading scorer for Jeffersontown during the season, finished with a mere eight points on a 3-of-13 shooting night.

Evans said his team's pressure was a small factor, but attributed Roan and Holt's second-half ineffectiveness to J'town's lack of depth.

"Probably more fatigue on their part," said Evans. "(J'town Head Coach) John (Kyser) lost two good players this year, and when you have to go that deep on your bench, those kind of kids that are studs just have to do so much more."

Mercy did lose an uncharacteristic 23 turnovers during the game, but did force 29 J'town miscues, and converted the Chargers' mistakes into 27 points.

The win over J'town puts Mercy bank in familiar territory - the Seventh Region Tournament finals. And slates them against an extremely familiar foe - the DuPont Manual Crimsons.

Mercy and Manual have already locked up four times this season, including its most recent matchup in the 25th District Championship, a game Manual won 74-68 on Feb. 23. The Jags' lone win over Manual out of four tries came during a 62-59 win in the Republic Bank Classic Championship on Dec. 20 in Lexington.

"I'm sure (Manual Head Coach) Stacy (Pendleton's) put a lot of nights into Mercy Academy. I the same," said Evans. "And I think we're to a point now where I think I have an idea of what I'm planning on doing (against Manual). I think I know what we need to do, now if it's good enough to get us where we want to be, I don't know. But I do believe most of the preparation is over now, with the exception of working on some confidence with some of my kids who are really key. But I think if we can rest those legs, and we have a little bounce to us, we'll have a good shot at it. It ought to be one hell of a game...if I've correct on my gameplan."

The Jaguars (24-7) and Crimsons (29-4) will tip off at 5pm on Saturday in the regional finals at Bellarmine University's Knights Hall, with a shot in the state tournament on the line.

 

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