STANFORD — The Lincoln County girls basketball team had four players score in double figures in a 64-55 win over visiting Mercer County Tuesday in a 12th Region doubleheader.
Emily Fox and Sydney Harris paced the quartet with 18 points apiece, Kourtney Belcher finished with 16 points and Ciara Saylor had 10 points as No. 16 Lincoln picked up its 20th win of the season and remained undefeated in the region.
“I’ve said before that if we can get three players in double figures that we’re hard to beat and tonight we had four in double figures,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said.
Lincoln (20-4) needed every one of those points to post its 11th straight region victory as Mercer (18-7) battled back from a 12-point halftime deficit and pulled within 56-53 with just 2 minutes, 6 seconds to play.
Catheryne Claunch, who had a game-high 19 points, converted on a three-point play for Mercer to make it a three-point game, but the Lincoln went to the foul line and sank eight straight free throws to preserve the lead and the win.
“I’m glad those (free throws) go in because, if not, well ...,” said McWhorter.
Mercer came up short in the ballgame, but Lady Titans coach Chris Souder was proud of his team’s second-half fight.
“We got beat by nine but, with two minutes to go, it was a one-possession game” he said. “I’m pleased with our second half, we just dug too big of a hole the first half. You can’t get down that big against a good team like them. They are a top 15 team. I told the girls before the game, ‘They’re not going to beat themselves. We have to beat them.’ And we didn’t do that.”
Mercer found itself playing from behind from the opening tip as Lincoln jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first quarter. Belcher went to the paint for two buckets and Harris hit inside and out for the six-point lead with 5:26 left on the clock. Cassidy Martin, who had 16 points in the game, had Mercer’s lone goal in the opening run then sparked the Mercer offense with a 3-point goal at the 4:53 mark. Houston followed with a layup and Kandace Gash scored on a putback to edge the Lady Titans up 9-8.
However, the lead was shortlived. After a series of turnovers, five in a row, Lincoln was back on the scoreboard with Fox hitting a 3-pointer to ignite a 12-2 run. Harris scored four points in the run, Belcher added two and Saylor punctuated the first quarter with a trey for a 20-11 margin.
The Lincoln lead dipped below double digits only once in the second quarter. Martin bombed in a 3-pointer to make it 25-16 only to have Fox answer with her own trey and Belcher following with a bucket off a Harris assist for the Lady Pats’ largest lead of the game, 30-16.
Lincoln led 32-20 at halftime, but that didn’t make McWhorter happy.
“I told the girls that I felt like we were up 20 but you look at the scoreboard and we’re not. We had way too many turnovers,”¿she said. “That’s because they did a good job getting their hands on a lot of things. They had a lot of deflections and steals, but then there were times we just threw the ball away. We had 17 turnovers at halftime. We don’t even want that many in a game.”
Lincoln, which had 27 turnovers overall, cut down on the miscues the second half but the lead never got much larger as Mercer made things interesting.
Belcher opened the second half with a putback for Lincoln before Claunch drove inside to set off a 10-4 Mercer run. Martin and Raegan Freeman both hit from 3-points out and Claunch closed with a rebound and putback to whittle the deficit down to 36-30 midway of the third quarter.
“I just felt like the first half we didn’t really come to compete,” Souder said. “I just wanted more competition so we jumped them pretty good at halftime, and we played much better the second half.”
McWhorter said Mercer came out the second half like she hoped Lincoln would.
“The first three minutes right after halftime is always big,”¿she said. “They came out and hit their shots. We came out kind of flat. Claunch drove right in, the Martin kid hit the 3 and they were right back in it.”
The Lady Patriots managed to halt the Lady Titans’ third-quarter surge by closing out the period on a 10-5 run. Belcher had six points in the run and Fox and Harris each had two to put Lincoln back up 46-35 going into the final frame.
That was Lincoln’s last double-digit lead. Martin sank two free throws to open the fourth quarter and Heidi Huffman hit a 3-pointer to get Mercer within 46-40.
The Lady Patriots regained a nine-point lead, 50-41, off a Harris bucket with 5:49 to play, but the Lady Titans continued to challenge. Mercer was unable to get any closer than five points until, with 2:43 remaining in the game, Lyric Houston drained a 3-pointer to make 54-50. Then, after a layup by Fox, Claunch answered for Mercer with the three-point play for the 56-53 margin late.
“They cut it way down. Thankfully we were able to hold on for the win,”¿McWhorter said. “Being off a week, you get nervous with kids because practice gets old once you’re in the season. We had to make sure we kept them focused in practice. I was definitely pleased with our intensity, especially the first quarter. We’ve just got to grow and mature where we can do that for four quarters and not just in spurts.”
Souder says he looks forward to a rematch.
“It’s getting that time of year where you want to play these good games. Hopefully we’ll get another opportunity at them in the region,”¿he said.
Lincoln shot 48 percent (21-for-44) from the field overall and went 19-for-24 from the foul line.
Mercer was at 34 percent (20-for-58) and was 9-for-14 at the line.
Lincoln cleaned up on the boards, outrebounding Mercer 40-21. Harris finished with a double-double adding a game-high 11 rebounds to her 18 points. Belcher had six boards, Fox had six and Saylor had four. Claunch led Mercer with six boards.