February 29th, 2012

Huge 2nd Half Leads Mercy past Holy Cross

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

Huge 2nd Half Leads Mercy past Holy Cross
photo by Paul Najjar

Hartlage hits for 33 as Jaguars advance to championship

The Mercy Academy Jaguars and the Holy Cross Cougars entered their Class Act 6th Region semifinal contest with identical 26-5 records. But it was Mercy’s defensive pressure and team depth that wore-down the Cougars with a strong second half performance, propelling the state’s No. 3 ranked Jaguars to a 79-49 win at Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Mercy junior guard Whitney Hartlage was unstoppable to start the game. She hit her first seven three point attempts, ending up 9-15 from three point range and with 33 total points to lead the Jaguars. The Cougars had no answer for Hartlage’s long-range marksmanship, nor could they sustain the rapid pace of play at which Mercy played.

“Whitney (Hartlage) was Whitney, but her greatest contribution was the effort she brought to the defensive end when we got in our full court press at the start of the second half,” said Mercy head coach Mark Evans. “We talked in the locker room about Holy Cross being the aggressor (in the first half) and they attacked us really hard. We give them credit; they were tougher than we were throughout the first half.”

That second half pressure was too much for Holy Cross to handle, though. Mercy’s defense forced the Cougars into 10 turnovers that translated into 12 points for the Jaguars as they extended their 5 point halftime lead to 16 points at the end of three quarters.

“We talked about the Holy Cross seniors and how much experience they had as a team,” said Mercy head coach Mark Evans. “They’re a tough group and they fight for every point. My greatest concern was that we had a strong respect for them. We had to respond in the second half to their aggression.”

For the first 17 minutes of the game Holy Cross maintained their composure and knocked Mercy on their heels with a combination of hard-nosed play, rebounding and a defense that challenged the Jaguars all over the court.

Down 40-35 at halftime, the Cougars seemed energized by their first half effort and immediately closed the gap to three points on a Julie Skaggs layup. Skaggs was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw. The Jaguars’ Kayla Richardson hit a three to put her team up six at 43-37. The Cougars Sydney Morabito followed with two free throws to put the score at 43-39 and, in a matter of three minutes of game action, Mercy reeled off 14 straight points to put the game out of reach.

“Our kids just ran out of gas; they got tired,” lamented Holy Cross coach Fred Copass. “They (Mercy) are a good team and they can shoot. They hit the buckets tonight and put us in a hole, but we fought back and had a chance to take a lead in the second quarter. Our game plan was to attack, to take it right to them. When you’re not real big and not real strong, your legs will go first. We just wore out.”

Hartlage added 4 steals and 3 assists to her 33 points. Joining her in double figures was Richardson (14) and Christine Roush (13). Hartlage’s shooting exhibition was something to see. Seven straight to start the game and 9 total is pretty rare. She knocked down 7 threes in a game earlier this year against Butler, but she talked about how the shots came from the offense and helped the team.

“It (the shooting streak) kind of pumped me up and I think it pumped up our team, too,” said Hartlage. “But whenever we play defense and rebound, the offense comes. We focused on our defense and rebounding tonight. It felt good, but my teammates were able to get me the ball in our regular offense so they get the credit too.”

For Holy Cross, seniors Maya Hardin (10 points), Skaggs (9) and Kim Mingus (8) led their team in scoring and Hardin grabbed 9 rebounds as well. Copass will miss their leadership and he talked about the legacy the girls left.

"It's pretty tough to lose those three seniors," said Copass. "We explained to the rest of the team that this is what it's all about. These three seniors set the stage for us the past couple of years and hope that they learned something from the effort and commitment that Mya Hardin, Julie Skaggs and Kim Mingus have given."

The Jaguars next play Saturday evening at Knights Hall for the 6th Region championship against Butler, a team they defeated 65-56 on the road on January 13. Butler advanced by defeating Bullitt East on a layup at the buzzer, 50-48. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00pm.


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