NICHOLASVILLE — Cassidy Martin felt she had a lot to prove Friday.
The Mercer County guard admitted she was nervous in the district semifinals and did not play her best.
She brought her best Friday night.
Martin scored a school-record 45 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had five steals and two assists to help the Mercer girls lead by 18 points at halftime and cruise past Burgin 81-56 in the 46th District Tournament final at East Jessamine. It was Mercer’s fifth straight district crown.
“I wanted to prove something to myself because after the game against West Jessamine, I didn’t want people to think I was nervous anymore, and even my teammates or coach (Chris) Souder,” said Martin, who had 14 points Tuesday in the Titans’ win over West Jessamine. “So I just had something to prove tonight. We had something to prove tonight.
“I was a little nervous about coming into the 46th District Tournament for the first time. But after getting used to the play and playing in this gym, I guess I adjusted pretty well tonight.”
Martin had her scoring average, 25 points, by halftime as Mercer led 36-18. The senior was 15-for-23 from the field, went 4-for-8 from 3-point range and made 11 of her 12 free throws.
Souder said he didn’t like how Martin started the game, but he loved how she finished it.
“I called a timeout early specifically just to get on her, because I felt she had already passed up two or three shots. So I called the timeout to challenge her,” Souder said. “And she kind of took off after that. It was a pretty good night.”
Martin’s 45 points were one short of the career high set last year when she was playing at Pigeon Forge (Tenn.). She scored her final points on a layup with 7 minutes, 5 seconds to go in the game, but she said getting a new career high was not on her mind.
“In my mind, it was just that we had to beat Burgin, because we’ve got to get ready for region,” she said. “I didn't really care about how many I scored tonight, I just wanted to get my team ready for the regionals.”
And Mercer will go into this week’s 12th Region Tournament at Pulaski County on a high note, having won five straight and six of seven.
“I’m definitely ready. I’ve lost sleep just thinking about it,” Martin said.
Mercer trailed 7-6 when Martin started getting going to give the Titans the lead for good.
She scored 10 straight points to close out the first quarter, including a 3-pointer from the right corner with 21 seconds left, to make it 16-7 Mercer after a quarter.
She opened the second quarter with a jumper, and Heidi Huffman and Madaline Bartley also scored to put the Titans ahead 22-7 with 5:22 left in the third.
Down 26-13, Burgin got within nine points on Liz Marcinek’s layup, but Martin scored seven straight points on four free throws and a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Seygan Robins lofted in a high shot off the glass with 3 seconds left in the first half to make it 36-18.
“She’s a great shooter, and she’s hard to keep in check,” Burgin coach Ray Daniels said of Martin. “We were just hoping we’d minimize her touches and force the ball out of her hands, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Of course, Burgin (14-15) did not help itself by going just 3-for-14 from the free throw line in the first half.
“And several of those were one-and-ones. You shoot 75 percent and you’re down single digits going into halftime,” Daniels said. “We had a few unforced turnovers. And against a good team like Mercer, you have to minimize the mistakes and capitalize on free throws when you get to the foul line. It would have been huge if we could have kept it to single digits.
“I thought we were within reach at halftime. We were down 16 and we didn’t play well in the first half.”
But any thoughts the Bulldogs had of staging a comeback were dashed quickly.
Martin opened the third quarter by hitting two free throws, scoring off a steal from Catheryne Claunch and drilling a 3-pointer from the right wing. Kandace Gash then grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled and made one of two free throws to make it 44-18 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.
Gash finished with four points and grabbed six rebounds to help Mercer to a 33-31 edge on the glass.
“Kandace is kind of coming around for us,” Souder said. “She rolled her ankle a couple of weeks ago, and she’s struggled a little. But she’s kind of starting to figure it out, starting to figure out the way I want her to play. I want her to be athletic, I want her to be active. We struggle on the inside, and she gives us what we need in there.”
Claunch, who finished with seven points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals, scored two straight buckets and Martin scored four points as Mercer led 58-34 after three quarters. The Titans finished 27-for-64 from the floor and went 8-for-20 from 3-point range and 19-for-27 at the line.
Senior Carli Souder also played for the first time since dislocating her right elbow Feb. 2 against Burgin.
“I spot-played her, and I told her, ‘Absolutely do not dive on the floor,’” Chris Souder said. “I wanted her to get in the flow of the game and get ready for the regional tournament.”
Marcinek scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds for Burgin, which went 19-for-40 from the field and made 13 of 28 free throws. Summer Burke had 15 points, and Libby Dismeaux had nine points and seven rebounds.
The girls’ regional draw is today, and the tournament gets underway Wednesday.
46th District Tournament
At East Jessamine
Burgin 7 18 34 56
Mercer County 16 36 60 81
BURGIN (14-15) — Summer Burke 15, Randi Burke 8, Liz Marcinek 18, Libby Dismeaux 9, Taylor Sanders 6.
MERCER (24-8) — Catheryne Claunch 7, Heidi Huffman 7, Cassidy Martin 45, Lyric Houston 2, Kandace Gash 4, Raegan Freeman 2, Madaline Bartley 5, Seygan Robins 4, Alie Burke 3, Emma Davis 2.
Catheryne Claunch, Mercer County; Kandace Gash, Mercer County; Cassidy Martin, Mercer County; Summer Burke, Burgin; Taylor Sanders, Burgin; Emilie Hatfield, East Jessamine; Ashlee Rose, West Jessamine.