Mercer County used pesky defense and three-point shooting to dispatch East Jessamine 68-21 on Monday night in the first round of the District 46 girls’ basketball tournament at Mercer.
The No.1-seeded Lady Titans (25-5) got off to a bit of a slow start due to the Lady Jags’ (3-26) defensive pressure but were soon able to break it with back-to-back three-pointers by Carli Souder and Cawood Dedman late in the first quarter to give Mercer a 12-2 advantage. The Lady Titans were also getting to the free-throw line early against East, hitting 6-of-6 attempts in the first period.
“I don’t know that it was that we weren’t focused; I guess I’d call it sloppy (at the start of the game),” Mercer County coach Chris Souder said. “We didn’t practice real well yesterday (Sunday) … I told them, ‘You’re doing just what you did yesterday, just real sloppy and not focused on what you’re doing.’”
East Jessamine’s offensive production was able to pick up in the second quarter after being outscored 16-2 in the first.
However, Mercer used four more three-pointers to continue to expand the lead and take a 38-16 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
“The work that Mercer County has done and the experience that they have gained is something that we can strive for, that is a good example of a good team that plays well together, that’s been through it, and their seniors are enjoying the fruits of their labor,” East Jessamine coach Jacqueline Coleman said. “There’s no better example for our team than that.”
Mercer’s defense, which was already strong in the first half, stepped it up going into the second half. The Lady Jaguars scored at the 6:12 mark of the third quarter on a basket by Heather Welch to make it 38-18, but Mercer kept them off the scoreboard for the next five and a half minutes. During the defensive lockdown, Mercer went on a 9-0 run as Catheryne Claunch, Dedman, Savannah Taylor and Taylor Readnower each found the basket.
Another three-pointer by Souder late in the third quarter helped Mercer to a 52-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Titans’ defense held East off the board again for another extended stretch, this time going four minutes and 48 seconds without allowing a point. East trailed 62-20 by the time Ariel Florian hit the second of two technical free throws. The bucket was the Lady Jags’ only point of the fourth quarter.
“(Defense) has been our calling card all year. We’re holding teams under 40 points a game; in that category, we’re in the top six or seven in the state. Our kids take a lot of pride in that and our half-court defense,” Souder said. “I know we won by a bunch, but defense carried us.”
Taylor led Mercer with 17 points; Dedman hit three three-pointers in the first half and finished with 13 points; Souder hit four treys for 12 points; Claunch was the fourth Lady Titan in double digits with 10 points.
Mercer shot 14 free throws in the first and fourth quarter combined but made only two trips for four shots in the second and third quarter.
Jennifer Howson scored seven points for East Jessamine, and Malin Miracle had six.
Mercer County advances to the district championship Thursday against Burgin (13-17) at 7 p.m. at Mercer.