Mercer girls edge Danville in OT for 12th Region title
Published 12:41 pm Monday, March 6, 2023
By MIKE MARSEE
SOMERSET — Three months ago, the Mercer County Titans were going nowhere. Now, they’re going to Rupp Arena.
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A team that was forced to reinvent itself following the loss of its top player fought its way through a challenging schedule and found a path to a championship, completing its unlikely run Sunday by beating Danville 63-59 in overtime to win the girls 12th Region Tournament.
Mercer outscored Danville 8-1 over the final 3:04 of overtime at Pulaski County to secure a trip to the Girls Sweet 16 that no one outside its circle would have predicted in late November.
Everything changed when Timberlynn Yeast, a 2,000-point scorer, was lost to a knee injury days before the season opener. Everything, that is, except for the Titans’ top goal.
“We kept telling the girls, ‘We know that you’re capable of winning the region. Our goals do not change just because Timberlynn is out,’” Mercer coach Hayley Spivey said. “And they stuck with it and they believed and we believed, and I think that’s the reason we’re here.”
It was a long road to Mercer’s first regional title since 2018, when it won the second of its back-to-back state championships. The Titans started this season 4-10 in what Spivey called “the dog days of December” before beginning to get some traction.
“I knew it was going to take some time. I kept telling people, ‘Guys, it might take us 15 or 20 games because we’ve got to figure some things out, and it did, it took us just about 15 or 20 games and we kind of turned a corner there …. in the second half of our season,” Spivey said. “Everybody kind of figured out their role, and playing these tough games and playing these tough teams and them facing some adversity has ultimately helped us win this game today.”
Mercer guard Anna Drakeford said playing tough teams made the Titans tougher.
“We’re battle tested,” Drakeford said. “We’ve had a tough, tough schedule this year … so I think that was a big part of it.”
Mercer (21-13) was steeled by a schedule that included four regional champions, including the team it will meet later this week in the first round of the state tournament in Lexington.
The Titans will face George Rogers Clark at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Rupp Arena. GRC, the 10th Region champion, defeated Mercer 54-48 on Feb. 3 in Harrodsburg.
“We’re going to celebrate tonight, but we’re going to start preparing tomorrow,” Drakeford said.
Drakeford scored 22 points and Teigh Yeast scored 20 for Mercer, and the two combined for 29 of its 36 points after halftime.
Drakeford’s steal and layup with 33 seconds left in overtime gave the Titans a 59-58 lead. After Danville tied the game, Yeast drove toward the basket, drew a foul and hit two free throws at :19 to put Mercer on top to stay, then hit two more with two seconds left after the Lady Admirals missed a 3-point shot.
It was a heartbreaking loss for Danville (30-3), which had forced overtime when Love Mays sank a 3-point shot at the buzzer at the end of regulation to tie the game at 55-all.
The Lady Admirals had beaten the Titans 49-48 on Dec. 13, but this time Mercer prevailed in a game that truly could have gone either way.
Mercer held Mays, who had 30 points in Danville’s semifinal win over Pulaski County, to 17 points.
Samantha Bottom hit five of six 3-point shots and scored 20 points for Danville, and Desiree Tandy added 15.
Mays, Bottom and Tandy have been part of Danville’s program for all five seasons of Mason’s second stint as coach, and the coach was hurting for them.
“I just love these seniors,” Mason said, her voice cracking. “They were here when I came back, and they’ve given everything to me.”
Mason said she’s proud that all four of the team’s seniors, including Bryn Gooch, will attend college, and she’s proud of what they achieved this season, when they teamed with an emerging group of sophomores to lead the Lady Admirals to a school-record 30 wins, and throughout their careers.
“They’ve totally changed this program at Danville,” Mason said. “They’re having a hard time, but in a few days they’ll look at it and see.”
In a few days, Mercer will make its sixth Sweet 16 appearance and its first under Spivey, a 2008 Mercer graduate who was an assistant coach on Mercer teams that won four straight regional titles from 2015-18.
Danville — Samantha Bottom, Love Mays, Desiree Tandy; Danville Christian — Grace Mbugua; McCreary Central — Kennedy Creekmore; Mercer County — Anna Drakeford, Sara Dunn, Lindsay Jessie, Teigh Yeast; Pulaski County — Madeline Butcher, Aubrey Daulton; Somerset — Grace Bruner; Southwestern — Payton Acey, Ayden Smiddy; West Jessamine — Isabella Lewis.
Love Mays, right, of Danville puts up an off-balance shot against Mercer County defenders Teigh Yeast (2) and Lindsay Jessie during the second quarter Sunday. Photo by Mike Marsee