Someday when Head Coach Hayley Spivey looks back on the 2022-2023 basketball season she will surely remerber a group of young women who time after time overcame adversity, never stopped fighting and playing for one another. Despite the magical story of this Lady Titans team, we were reminded on March 8, that all good stories must end. Mercer once again battled hard against an extremely talented George Rogers Clark team, but it was not to be. The Lady Titans went on to fall to the Lady Cardinals 51-43.
Fight, fight and fight some more has been the mindset around this Lady Titans team all season. After starting the year with a record of 6-10, very few would have predicted the heights this team would eventually reach. Mercer knocked off Danville Christian Academy, back-to-back 12th region champs Southwestern and Region favorite Danville to earn a spot in the girls KHSAA sweet 16 tournament.
In the opening round of the Sweet 16 tournament, Mercer drew the winner of the 10th Region. The Lady Titans would once again battle legendary coach Robbie Graham, University of Cincinnati commit Brianna Byars and the rest of the talented GRC Lady Cardinals.
The stage was set and the environment was palpable. The Lady Titans came out prepared for a fight, scoring the first four points of the game thanks to a Lindsay Jessie midrange jumper and a Teigh Yeast layup one minute into the game.
GRC’s Ciara Byars scored at the rim for her team’s first points. Mercer could not find success on their ensuing possessions, Byars then showed her passing ability, finding Anaya Chestnut for a 3-pointer that gave GRC an early 5-4 lead.
The Lady Titans struggled to find their rhythm, and allowed Byars to again get into the paint and score on consecutive possessions. Forcing Spivey to burn her first timeout. Out of the timeout GRC held a 9-4 lead before Yeast found Jessie for a 3-pointer, cutting the deficit back down to 9-7.
GRC tried to get their shooters going, but were having trouble early. However the UC commit was ther,e on more than one occasion to clean up the misses. Byers extended the lead to 14-7 after knocking down a 3-pointer.
Baskets by Maliki Tabor and Byers pushed GRC ahead by 12 with 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Anna Drakeford went coast-to-coast for the Lady Titans, knocking down a jumper at the buzzer that brought the score to 9-19 at the end of the first eight minutes.
Drakeford followed up her buzzer beater at the end of the first period with another jumper in the first minute of the second period. The Lady Titans began to find success on both ends of the court, limiting Byers in the paint and making GRC’s shooters uncomfortable. Mercer kept chipping away at the deficit, Junior Peyton Boyd split a pair of free throws just before Sara Dunn nailed a huge 3-pointer that brought the score to 15-21 and forced GRC into a timeout.
The Lady Cards turned back to Byars down low and Kennedy Stamper’s jumper gave GRC a 25-17 lead. The Lady Titans would not go away easily though, scoring four points before halftime bringing the score to 25-21 half way through the contest.
The third quarter was a back and forth affair, which saw Byers touch the ball nearly every possession. Dunn hit another 3-pointer at the five minute mark that kept the Lady Titans within striking range. Drakeford scored four points in the final minute of the third quarter which brought Mercer within two points of GRC.
Heading into the final quarter momentum favored the Lady Titans, evident by Yeast scoring within the first 10 seconds. Tying the game at 36-36. Mercer began to bring help defense against the powerful Byars which led to her finding a wide open Chestnut for a 3-pointer, placing GRC back on top 39-36.
Mercer’s effort did not waver as the Lady Cardinals began to pull away. In the final three minutes of the game the Byers sisters scored on five consecutive possessions for GRC. The late run posed a challenge that the Lady Titans could not overcome, eventually falling 51-43 to a team that reached the final four. A heartbreaking loss to an unforgettable season.