It was a disappointing end to one of the most successful seasons in school history Saturday night as the Lady Titans fell to the hosting Lady Patriots of Lincoln County in the semi-final round of the 12th Region Tournament, losing 54-50.
Mercer started the game off cold missing their first four shots before a three-pointer by Savannah Taylor, over two minutes into the game tied the score at three all.
Taylor scored the Lady Titans first five points of the game. Freshman point guard Catheryne Claunch took over at the end of the quarter scoring Mercer’s last four points including the go ahead basket following a Cawood Dedman steal, giving Mercer a 9-8 lead with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter.
Lincoln County answered by closing out the period with a 5-0 run taking a 13-9 lead into the second period.
A runner by Dedman inside of a minute into the second quarter tied the game again at 13-13, before the Lady Patriots went on another run. Mercer scored just one basket over the next six and a half minutes as Lincoln County built a 29-15 lead with 18 seconds remaining in the first half.
Mercer’s Carli Souder was able to drive to the paint for a lay up with two seconds to spare, breaking the Lady Titans scoring drought, sending them into halftime down, 29-17.
“We felt like we were rushing things on the offensive end in the second quarter,” said Mercer head coach Chris Souder. “The biggest thing is, we weren’t rebounding. They were getting three and four shots, while we were getting one. We knew our kids wouldn’t quit and were able to battle back and had an opportunity to win the ball game.”
Mercer’s hole got deeper in the third quarter as Lincon hit back to back three-pointers to open the second half forcing Souder was forced to call a time out to regroup his players.
“I wasn’t real happy,” said Souder. “I told them I don’t care if they hit three’s. If they hit three’s and beat us then they do, but they had out hustled us to a couple of balls and I just told them we weren’t going out like that.”
Despite trailing by 18 points, 35-17, Mercer never hung their heads. Instead, they continued to battle. With three minutes left in the third quarter, Dedman’s second steal of the game led to a Claunch three-pointer, pulling Mercer within single digits, 42-33. The Lady Titans whittled Lincoln County’s lead down to eight points by the end of the quarter, 45-37.
A Mercer basket on the opening possession of the fourth quarter, followed by a Lady Patriots’ turnover helped Mercer cut it to a two possession game, 45-40. As a bonus, Lady Patriot point guard Rachel Spangler picked up her fifth foul on the play with 7:24 remaining in the game.
Mercer was dealt an even more devastating blow moments later when Claunch also picked up her fifth foul of the game with 6:48 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Losing our point guard hurt us a lot more than them losing their point guard,” said Souder. “Her fifth foul was a tough call. She is just a freshman and she’ll learn to back off of it a little bit. Catheryne (Claunch) plays with such heart that you can’t fault her for it.”
Mercer continued to trail through the fourth quarter until a free throw by Tabby Shewmaker tied the game at 49-49 with 1:14 to play. Lincoln County reclaimed the lead with a three-pointer on their next possession. A free throw by Carlie Souder made it 52-50 with 32 seconds to play. Mercer was able to force a turnover and called a time out to set up their final play with 17 seconds left on the clock.
“We tried to get it to the corner and dump it down to Savannah (Taylor), but Carli (Souder) couldn’t get it down there so we threw it out top,” said Souder on their last offensive play of the game. “So, we tried to get a screen and roll to the basket, but Tabby (Shewmaker) got a great look, it just didn’t go in.”
Shemaker’s shot rimmed in then out and was collected by Lady Patriot’s Ciara Saylor with six ticks left on the clock forcing Mercer to foul. Saylor hit both free throws ending the Lady Titans season, 54-50.