By: Conor Revell
Sacred Heart’s basketball team left Harrodsburg a little angry 49 days ago and the host team paid the price in their rematch.
The Valkyries routed the defending state champs and top-ranked Mercer County 83-49 to win their first Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Consolidated Louisville Invitational Tournament in 11 years.
“We needed this win,” Sacred Heart head coach Donna Moir said. “We won the region last year. We came in and got the No. 1 seed. I think back in December when we played Mercer, I think we felt like we left a win down there. Even the kids this morning were saying this morning we want to play Mercer County tonight. We want to get a little revenge. I think they wanted to play them and they came ready.”
Sacred Heart cruised through the tournament winning their games against Bullitt East (second round), Nelson County (quarterfinals), Manual (semifinals), and the Titans (championship) by an average of 27.8 points.
“It means a lot to win,” Sacred Heart senior Kia Sivils said. “We haven’t won it since 2007. It has been 11 years. It makes me feel great that we accomplished something that hasn’t happened in a while.”
The Titans defeated Butler in the quarterfinals and Male in the semifinals.
It was revenge for the Valkyries after blowing a 12-point lead and losing 65-63 to Mercer County at the last second back on Dec. 9th.
“I think the loss in December really hurt us,” Sacred Heart senior Grace Berger said. “ It was the manner and the way we lost. We have improved since then. We have had a lot of hard practices and games since then to prepare us for this moment. We’ve been ready and came out on fire tonight.”
Few were prepared for what revenge meant as Sacred Heart (18-5) raced out to a 42-23 halftime lead and the Titans (22-3) never got any closer than 15 points in the second half and the final score was the game largest margin.
“We shared the basketball and I think we stepped on the floor and we were ready to play,” Moir said. “I think we had a good defensive game plan to stop them. They had trouble guarding us a little bit. It was an overall team effort.”
Mercer County hadn’t lost to an in-state team since losing to Butler 81-72 in the LIT semifinals Jan. 28, 2017 and suffered its worst loss since losing by 41 to Elizabethtown in the 2015 Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament.
For the Valkyries it was a time of celebration, the prestigious basketball program has now won a record eight LIT titles, two more than Butler who has won six.
It was an all-around performance for the Valkyries who had three players finish in double figures and got 16 assists while shooting 32 of 55 (58.2 percent) from the field including 6 of 17 (35.3 percent) from three-point land and 13 of 16 (81.3 percent) from the free-throw line.
Berger, an Indiana signee led the way with 23 points – hitting 10 of 11 from the field including 2 of 2 from three-point land – and had five rebounds, three steals, and two assists.
“My teammates were sharing the ball and getting me wide open shots,” Berger said. “That is a pretty good combination.”
Clemons had a double-double recording 16 points and hit 10 of 11 from the field and had 10 rebounds, five blocks, two assists, and two steals.
“I just walled up whenever they got around there,” Clemons said of her five blocked shots. “The coaches told me to push everyone to the left, but Seygan Robins who is left handed. I kind of went there and just walled up whenever they tried to get a layup.”
The sophomore represented Sacred Heart on the All-Tournament team along with Berger and Toller.
“Kristen was a force in there and got a lot of rebounds,” Moir said. “Last time I think Souder took advantage and had her day with Kristen, today Kristen had her day with Emmy and we ran the floor really well and scored some baskets in transition.”
Kiki Samsel added 11 points and six assists while Erin Toller finished with eight points and six rebounds, Ashlee Harris chipped in eight points and three assists, and Sivils, who won the Bunny Daugherty Miss Defense Award, had seven points, three rebounds, three steals, and two assists.
“When we lost in December, I was kind of mad because we should have won,” Harris said. “I knew we would have another chance and I knew we wanted to get them this time and I was like let’s do it.”
The Titans were pressured by Sacred Heart all night and turned it over 18 times, 12 because of steals and only shot 16 of 53 (30.2 percent) from the field including 7 of 19 (36.8 percent) from three-point land and 9 of 13 (69.2 percent) from the foul line.
Seygan Robins, won the Joyce Seymour Miss Offense Award, and paced Mercer County with 16 points and six rebounds while Emma Souder finished with 11 points and six rebounds and Toni McCombs had 10 points.
“We just tried to make her go to her right and not her left,” Moir said of Robins, a University of Louisville signee. “We didn’t do anything complicated. Ashlee Harris and Kia Sivils are awesome defensive players. They stepped up and guarded her well.”
While the Valkyries will cherish this victory, the big prize looms in March with the Seventh Region Tournament and perhaps a second straight trip to the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament at Northern Kentucky University.