Mercer County wins fourth-straight 12th Region title

Published 10:11 pm Saturday, March 3, 2018

STANFORD — Four in a row.

Mercer County girls’ basketball seniors completed their sweep of the 12th Region, winning the region championship over Casey County 60-42 on Saturday at Lincoln County High School.

The Mercer seniors are now 60-1 against 12th Region opponents for their high-school careers.

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But Saturday’s championship was the second in as many days where the Titans needed all four quarters to pull away from their opponent.

“We played good in spurts, not so good in spurts,” Mercer County head coach Chris Souder said. “Some of that you can attribute to Lincoln and Casey, they played similar styles, I thought. Kind of a sagging man-to-man. We couldn’t get a lot of stops, they attacked us at the rim and got to the foul line a lot. But we stayed patient and poised.”

Mercer and Casey traded baskets in the first quarter: The Titans led 15-14 after eight minutes.

In the second quarter, the Titans continued to wear on the Rebels and locked down defensively, allowing just five points in the frame. At half, Mercer led 30-19.

The Rebels did well to exploit the paint against Mercer’s man-to-man defense early in the game, Souder said.

“We kind of knew they were going to do that, I was getting frustrated because we knew they were going to do it,” he said. “We said, ‘you’re going to have to sit down and guard.’ We’re a high-risk, high-reward defense and sometimes in the half court, it’s hard for us to do that. Some of that is the way we’re geared, but we settled down and I think we held them to like five points in the second quarter. I thought our defense really picked up. Everything was a struggle for (Casey), I thought.”

Casey head coach Tara Weddle said she thought nerves set in after an adrenaline-filled first quarter.

“They didn’t shoot the ball when they had open shots, they didn’t attack when they should have,” she said. “That’s just all fear, I felt like. But defensively, they worked their butts off. That’s just heart.”

Weddle said that after the first quarter, her team struggled to look for their own shots. Casey scored 11 points over the next 16 minutes of game action.

“I thought we played well defensively, but I feel like our girls are too humble sometimes, they don’t realize how good they really are,” Weddle said. “They don’t quite have that confidence that the other top teams, Southwestern, Lincoln, Mercer, they have this swagger about them. It doesn’t matter who they play, they’re going to come in and dominate. Our girls just don’t have that demeanor to them yet, but when they get that, it’s going to be scary.”

Mercer owned the second quarter, going on a 15-5 run into halftime. Souder said he saw Casey’s legs wearing down and wanted to press that advantage.

“We noticed it in the second quarter,” he said. “The worst thing that could happen was halftime, because they were really struggling. Then I told them, it’s a 15-minute halftime, they’re going to regroup. We changed up our defense there, went to that three-quarter-court press and 3-2 zone and if anything, it ate up minutes and we tried to get out on their shooters. I think that was key, too.”

Both teams couldn’t hit shots in the third quarter: Each team scored six points in the third. But in the fourth, Casey started to gamble on defense and the Titans made them pay, scoring 24 points in the final frame. Souder credited his point guards — Seygan Robins and Toni McCombs — for controlling the pace of the game when it mattered most.

“Seygan and Toni kind of controlled the last two games,” the coach said. “I thought Faith (Lake) was huge early in this game. And I thought she was huge early in the Rockcastle game when we were struggling.

“That’s the beauty of this team: Lexy (Lake) and Emma (Davis) were struggling with fouls, Emmy (Souder) with scoring. There’s always somebody that is going to pick up the slack. That’s the way we’re geared. I’m just really impressed and pleased with the poise that they showed.”

The poise shown by the defending state champions isn’t new, but it’s a new situation for McCombs in her first year as a Titan.

“Huge. We could kind of see it coming the last couple weeks with Toni, really figuring out the way we needed her to play,” coach Souder said. “She came from a program that kind of plays it safe, and here, it’s totally different. We were begging her to cut loose, we told her that it’s OK to make turnovers, it’s OK to make mistakes. We could see it coming.

“She’s extremely hard to guard, and when she’s getting to the rim, it really helps Seygan and gives her a break at the point. Channing (Lewis) is the same way, we’re really three deep at point guard. I thought Channing gave us some good minutes tonight.”

It was an uncharacteristic game for the Titans from long-range: Mercer hit just three threes against Casey.

Coach Souder said that his team was focused on getting it inside to Emmy Souder in the paint and getting open looks or drives to the basket.

“Emmy Souder was really struggling this whole tournament to score, but I think she had 15 rebounds tonight and she really owned the glass,” coach Souder said. “We wanted that inside-outside approach tonight. In the first two games, we felt like we shot too many threes. I love threes, but we were shooting them too quick. Tonight, we still took quite a few but I thought they were better selected shots.”

The Titans will face Murray on Wednesday in the first round of the state tournament at Northern Kentucky University. Tip is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

“Murray, I don’t think they’ve lost before the All-A,” coach Souder said. “I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with their coach, Wyatt Foust. He does a great job, he’s a young guy. They’ve got three kids going to Murray State, they’ve got state tournament experience too. The one thing we have on them, we’re a little bit bigger than they are. We’ll celebrate, then we’ll get some film and start breaking them down.”


Casey will be back


The Rebels are young, and coach Souder said he was impressed with Weddle’s coaching in her two seasons at the helm.

“This bunch has been there, they’ve got a bright future and she’s done a great job with them,” he said.

Weddle said that compared to last year’s first-round loss in the district tournament, this year has been a huge step up.

“Last year we were out in the first round of the districts, we were the No. 1 seed and we lost to the 4-seed. That was very discouraging,” she said. “Then this year, we won the district, we made it to regions. The Boyle game was a little shaky, I was hesitant about the next two games and I was a little worried about the next two games because they’ve never been in this environment. But we played really well last night and I think they played hard tonight. It’s good that they got into this situation, it would be crazy for them to come in and win the whole tournament their first go at it.”

She added that Mercer is a great program to see in the championship and represent the 12th Region.

“I told the girls, ‘I don’t think many people outside this locker room expect us to be in this game.’ They were calm before the game, I felt good before the game because of that,” Weddle said. “They seemed focused and determined. Then you get out there with those girls and it’s a different kind of pressure than anyone you’ve played. All of the respect in the world to Mercer County’s program. They’re full of seniors, they’re hard working and they’re never phased.”


Box score

12th Region championship

At Lincoln County High School


MERCER COUNTY 15 15 6 24 60

CASEY COUNTY 14 5 6 17 42


MERCER (32-3): Seygan Robins 15, Emmy Souder 13, Toni McCombs 10, Emma Davis 7, Faith Lake 6, Lexy Lake 5, Channing Lewis 4

CASEY (26-7): Lauren Lee 14, Gena Cravens 12, Jordy Stephens 10, Myla McGowan 4, Shaylah Wilkey 2