March 6th, 2011

Guess Again: Manual Dethrones Mercy 55-52

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Guess Again: Manual Dethrones Mercy 55-52
photo by Brooke Ballard

Jaguars' return trip to state tournament halted by Crimsons

Kentucky will crown a new high school girls basketball state champion next week in Bowling Green.

After four epic showdowns this season between Mercy Academy and DuPont Manual, the defending state champion Jaguars battled the state's No. 1-ranked Crimsons on Saturday night for the fifth time this season on Saturday night.

But this matchup had larger stakes: the winner would capture the Seventh Region title and move on to the state tournament. The loser would have its season ended.

And when the dust finally settled after 32 minutes of intense basketball, the team celebrating its Bowling Green berth was Manual after a 55-52 win over Mercy, guaranteeing that a new team will capture the girls Sweet 16. The win for the Crimsons was the team's 30th overall this season.

The Jaguars, who trailed for the majority of the game, including a 15-point deficit with 4:07 to go in the third quarter, rallied to take its first lead of the game on a 3-poitner by sophomore Whitney Hartlage with 5:04 remaining in the game.

Mercy even stretched its lead to 51-48 on a putback by senior Juliann Miller and had possession of the ball with the game's final minutes ticking away.

But that's when Seventh Region Player of the year Mechael Guess stepped in yet again.

During the final two minutes, Guess ripped a steal, grabbed an offensive rebound, and provided the assist on a layup by Raven Hester that cut Mercy's lead to 51-50 with 1:33 to go.

A minute later, after a free throw by Mercy senior Lauren Faris made the score 52-50, Guess stepped into a 15-foot baseline jumper that was a sure thing from the moment it left the senior's hands, knocked it down, and tied the game at 52-52.

The Jaguars committed a turnover on the ensuing possession, which eventually led to a personal foul and two free throws attempts for Manual's Kara Wright. After missing the first, Wright would sink the second to put Manual back ahead 53-52 with 18 seconds to go.

Mercy, who had no timeouts remaining, set up its halfcourt offense and got a fearless drive by Faris through the lane. The senior point guard drew some contact. but was called for a traveling violation with four seconds to go, prior to any potential foul could be called.

Guess went on to knock down a pair of free throws for Manual making the score 55-52. Miller did manage to get off a halfcourt heave at the buzzer for Mercy that would have counted and sent the game to overtime. But the ball rattled around the rim, fell to the floor, and signaled the official end of Mercy's rein as state champions.

"People always talk about the cliche 'leave everything you've got on the floor.' Tonight you saw a bunch of kids that left everything on the floor. And when it got down to the end, it took so much energy and fight just to come back and get ourselves in our game," said Mercy Head Coach Mark Evans. "(Manual) played in the sky somewhere. They were quick today....quicker than I've ever seen them."

Manual, who was playing without one of its key players - junior April Wilson, who was out du eto a broken finger suffered just a few days before the game - jumped ahead by margins of 19-9 in the first quarter and 27-15 in the second quarter, and eventually 32-23 at halftime, due majorly to the play of Guess.

"They dealt with a terrible injury and stepped it up," said Evans. "You know when kids get injured, it can go one way or another. And I thought there for a while, toward the end, when we started turning them over a little bit, that they were feeling it. But we just couldn't close the deal."

The athletic center Guess was 7-of-11 from the field in the first half for 15 points by the break, and helped the Crimsons shoot a total of 46.7 percent (14-of-30) as a team, compared to Mercy's 26.9 percent (7-of-26) performance.

And after Guess took a charge and banked in a point-blank shot with 4:07 to go in the third quarter, Manual owned a 40-25 lead over a fading Mercy squad.

"We knew they'd come with their first big hit. They always do," said Evans. "And then we started out the third quarter, and they got up on us even more, it was really tough."

But just like they had all season, Mercy found another gear and fought back. And following back-to-back 3-pointers by seniors Miller and Emiy Goetz, Mercy quickly cut into the Manual lead. A bucket by junior Courtney Roush got the Jags within five points at 44-39 to end the third period.

Mercy, which finishes the season with a 24-8 record, continued its big run into the fourth quarter and cut Manual's lead to 48-46 on a Goetz basket at the 5:40 mark in the final period, setting up Hartlage's go-ahead trey.

"They gave me everything," said Evans. "It's sad to lose and this is a really bad feeling. I haven't had a feeling this bad for a long time. "Not because of the (state tournament in) Bowling Green thing - which is a great thing - but to see a bunch of kids give everything they have and it not happen for them."

In her final game as a Jaguar, Miller finished with a team-high 15 points, four rebounds, and two assists. She was joined in double figures by her other two, fellow seniors, as Goetz (13) and Faris (11) combined for 24 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in their final games in a Mercy uniform.

Following the game, an emotional Evans reflected on the game, his team's effort, and his appreciation for the fight the 2010-11 version of the Mercy Jaguars exhibited until the final horn blew on Saturday.

"I've coached for a long time, and I've been fortunate to have some pretty good teams. I've been a part of one state championship. Was the head coach for one state championship. I've never seen kids give what these kids did to try and win this ballgame," said Evans. "That's what I'll remember - just their fight. You couldn't ask for more."

For Manual, Wright and Kayla Styles combined for 14 points and 16 rebounds, including Wright's game-winning free throw late in the game.

Guess finished with a 10-of-16 shooting performance individually and poured in a game-high 25 points. Her play at the basket and clutch leadership down the stretch impressed the Mercy head coach.

"(Guess) rises to the occasion," said Evans. "She had some big shots. She hit that little 15-foot jump shot down in the corner. If that's a miss, and we secure a rebound, we win it. But she makes it. She got that big steal. I always worry about her shooting gaps. She makes the layup. My hats off to that kid, because I think it's something when a kid is going to play major college volleyball - already signed, sealed, and delivered - and comes out here and not just plays basketball, but plays it with passion. You just don't see two-sport athletes anymore. She's a class kid and tonight, when it came down to the end, she put them on her shoulders and made it happen, and we were on the short end of it."

Named to the Class Act Seventh Region All-Tournament Team were Guess, Hester (Manual), Miller, Faris (Mercy), Maddie Peabody (Sacred Heart Academy), and Morgan Foley (Assumpiton).

This is Manual's first trip to the state tournament since the 2007-08 season when the Crimsons advanced to the semifinals, before losing 56-48 to Butler. Manual will play Region Two champion Crittended County in the first round of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls Sweet 16 at Diddle Arena on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky.


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