Aggressive Mercer downs DCA to reach regional semifinals

Published 6:51 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023


Contributing Writer

SOMERSET — The Mercer County girls were aggressive in all the right ways.

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The Titans picked their spots and picked their shots, attacked the offensive glass and aggravated their opponent on defense, and all of those things added up to an impressive win in the first round of the 12th Region Tournament.

Mercer pulled away from Danville Christian in the second half Tuesday night for a 61-47 victory that set up a rematch of the last two regional finals.

The Titans have been one of the best teams in the 12th Region over the second half of the season, and they were on top of their game in a number of areas in their regional opener at Pulaski County.

“Our girls just played really aggressive tonight, and that’s what we told them we were going to have to do,” Mercer coach Hayley Spivey said.

Teigh Yeast scored 25 points and Anna Drakeford added 23 to lead Mercer (19-13), which has won six consecutive games and 15 of 18 since starting the season 4-10, into the regional semifinals for the third consecutive season.

The Titans will face Southwestern, the team that has bested them in the past two regional championship games, at 8:15 p.m. Friday.

Mercer’s first priority in its first-ever game against DCA was to make sure DCA didn’t develop a second source of offense to complement 6-4 center Grace Mbugua, the one player Spivey knew her team couldn’t stop.

“I’m realistic about what we’ve got and I know that I don’t have a match for her … so the game plan was to stop the other four out on the floor, and if she gets 25 or 30 (points) she gets 25 or 30,” Spivey said. “But I knew if we could kind of manage her and (contain) the rest of them we’d be in a good position to win.”

Mbugua had 21 points and 16 rebounds, but she scored only five points in the second half. And none of her teammates produced more than four points.

DCA (20-7) has the No. 1 rebounding team in the state at 40.6 boards per game and the top individual rebounder in Mbugua at 16.3 per game, and the Lady Warriors outrebounded Mercer 42-35 and had 18 offensive rebounds.

But the Titans also made hay on the offensive glass, getting 17 offensive boards of their own and turning several of them into second-chance points.

“It’s funny, we were the top rebounding team in the state of Kentucky all season, and I didn’t think rebounding was what would get us, but it’s what got us,” DCA coach Billy Inmon said.

Sara Dunn, Drakeford and Lindsay Jessie each had an offensive board on Mercer’s first possession of the second half, leading to a 3-point basket by Jessie that gave the Titans a 28-21 lead.

Yeast and Drakeford took over from there, scoring all but two of the Titans’ final 33 points, getting most of them on the kinds of drives toward the basket that Mercer eschewed in the first half as it stayed away from Mbugua.

“Teigh and Anna did what they needed to do, get to the rim and score,” Spivey said. “We were pretty fearful of driving in with too many layups, which is why we started off the game shooting a lot of mid-range jump shots. But at the end of the game we were able to pull (Mbugua) away from the basket a little bit more and we had those drives to the basket a little bit more open.”

Mercer outscored DCA 13-4 over the first 4:19 of the third quarter to take a 38-25 lead and led by as many as 17 points down the stretch.

Yeast had nine rebounds, Drakeford had seven rebounds and seven assists and Jessie had five rebounds and four steals.

Senior Timberlynn Yeast, who was sidelined by a preseason knee injury, made her second appearance of the season after playing briefly in Mercer’s senior night game. She came into the game in the final minute and did no running but did attempt a 3-point shot in the closing seconds.

DCA took a 9-6 lead on a 3 by Tristen Himes and a layup by Mbugua. Mercer opened a 22-16 lead in the second quarter but scored only three points in the final 6:10 of the first half.

“I thought what we were doing in the first half was good, and I thought we could have done the same thing in the second half, but the rebounding just got us,” Inmon said.

The second straight first-round regional loss for DCA ended the career of three seniors, including two, Himes and Victoria Inmon, who have been with the program since before the Lady Warriors played their first KHSAA season in 2019-20.

They were eighth-graders on a team that won a National Association of Christian Athletes championship in 2019, and they finished their careers as part of a team that posted the highest win total in the school’s four years in the KHSAA.

“They have played a road that none of the rest of thee girls will ever have to do,” Billy Inmon said.

The coach said he’s excited about the future of the program, but he said the Lady Warriors need to improve in two key areas.

“Strength is the main thing, and ball-handling is the other thing,” Inmon said.

Mercer moves on to another postseason showdown with Southwestern, which defeated the Titans 62-56 in the 2021 title game and 58-42 in the 2022 final.

Mercer has won the last two regular-season meetings, including a 55-42 victory in Harrodsburg on Feb. 16.

“This is a matchup that we’ve seen the past two years in the regional tournament, so there’s nothing new here,” Spivey said. “We’re excited about it. We always love playing against them. … It’ll be a good, competitive game, and I’m looking forward to a fun Friday night.”