Danville girls top Mercer, 64-49

Published 6:00 pm Friday, December 17, 2021

It was an opportunity for two regional contenders to see where they stood in the early days of the season, and it didn’t take long to see that Danville was one step ahead.

The Danville and Mercer County girls both want to be in the same position come March, but the Lady Admirals showed Tuesday in a 64-49 victory that they aren’t in the same place right now.

They used their speed, aggression, and experience to distance themselves from the Lady Titans.

This game may not mean much in March, when both Mercer and Danville, who were Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in The Cats’ Pause Basketball Yearbook’s preseason 12th Region rankings. are expected to be in the running for the 12th Region championship. But it mattered this week as a measure of where both teams are — and where they need to go.

“That’s the kind of game you want all the time. That was a good high school basketball game,” Danville coach Judie Mason said.

It was a good result for a veteran Danville team that was disappointed by the end of its 2020-21 season, when it lost to eventual champion Southwestern in the regional semifinals. The Lady Admirals lost four seniors to graduation, but two starters — twins Jenna and Lara Akers — returned for the fifth year allowed by Senate Bill 128 — came back to a team that starts three seniors and two juniors and returns six of its top eight scores from last season.

“What we wanted to look for tonight is to see if we can compete come February and March,” Danville coach Judie Mason said. “This is, in my opinion, still the best team in the region. That was a good test.”

Host Danville (3-1) had flunked its first true test of the season three days earlier, falling behind 13th Region contender Knox Central by 28 points before losing 68-57.

Mason said she liked that the Lady Admirals showed some fight in the second half of that game, and she said that carried over into Tuesday’s game.

“More than anything, I’m more proud of the effort,” she said. “I felt like the whole game we really got after it and pushed the ball up the floor and made them play our game.”

It was the first test of the season for Mercer (4-1), which lost to Southwestern in the regional finals last season. The Lady Titans lost only two seniors to graduation but are much younger — two juniors, two sophomores and an eighth-grader started Tuesday — and are without one of their top returning players.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Mercer coach Hayley Spivey said. “Outside of two of my starters there is zero varsity experience, so I’m asking girls to do a lot that they’ve never done before, which is OK. That’s what we want to do, but we’ve got a lot that we need to learn and a lot that we need to work on moving forward.”

Lara Akers scored 19 points to lead Danville, which gradually pulled away from a 10-10 tie to lead by as many as 10 points in the second quarter and 16 in the third.

Tyliah Bradshaw added 17 points, including 11 in the second half, in one of the best performances of her career.

The Lady Admirals shot 47 percent from the field in part due the number of layups they created by playing at a breakneck pace.

“We know that we’ve got to get teams in a running game, and that’s what we tried to do tonight,” Mason said.

They did it with only six players. The starting five played into the second quarter, and the one substitute, Samantha Bottom, is recovering from an ankle injury. Mason said she’d like to be able to go eight players deep in another month or so, but she said this wasn’t the game to try to extend the bench.

“We missed a lot of shots early on, but I felt like to play 5 1/2 kids, we’re in better shape now than I thought we would be,” Mason said.

Mercer was led by junior Timberlynn Yeast, the TCP yearbook’s preseason pick as the top player in the region, who scored 17 points.

“She’s been great in most our games this season, so I look forward to seeing what she can do in the remainder of the season,” Spivey said.

The Lady Titans are without Anna Kate Drakeford, who is repeating her sophomore year. Drakeford is still on the mend after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the regional title game, and she is expected to return soon.

Spivey said she has been impressed with the play of young players such as Teigh Yeast, an eighth-grader who is currently playing point guard; sophomores Sara Dunn and Jersey McGinnis and junior Lindsay Jessie, who are in the starting lineup; and junior Hope Lanham, the sixth man.

But Mercer shot just 33 percent and went just 3 for 23 from 3-point range against Danville.

The Titans hosted Bullitt East on Thursday night and have Christmas tournaments coming up at Elizabethtown and Anderson County, so there will be more tests ahead.

“I’m not too much worried about my record. You can’t win the region in December or January,” Spivey said. “I just want us to get to a point where we’re competing for 32 minutes. I felt like there were spurts tonight where we competed for two or three minutes here, two or three minutes there, and then we’d kind of have a lull. I want to get to the point where we can compete for 32 minutes moving into the first of the year.”

Mason said she would like to see further development of Danville’s bench and better half-court offense in the coming weeks.

“I just want us to get better in our half-court sets. We averaged 23 turnovers in our first three games,” said Mason, whose team had only nine against Mercer.

The Lady Admirals host Wayne County on Friday, play in a tournament at Corbin before Christmas and host their own event Dec. 27-30 as they prepare for January, when 45th District play begins and the All “A” Classic arrives.

“January’s huge for us,” Mason said.