By: Conor Revell
Wins and losses don’t matter in November, December, or January, it’s how you finish in late February and March.
Mercy’s basketball team has grown leaps and bounds since the start of the season and is reaping the rewards following their 64-48 victory over North Bullitt in the Sixth Region championship game Saturday at Valley High.
“I think this team started playing within themselves,” Mercy head coach Keith Baisch said. “When I did our preseason rankings I had us in the top five in the state not because where we were going to be at the beginning of the year, but because of where we were going to be at the end of the year.
“We had to deal with some injuries and adversity early, but It has been exciting to see the girls go through the process and to finally see them achieve one of our goals. We aren’t done yet, there’s still one more goal that we want to achieve.”
It’s the Jaguars (22-9) first Sixth Region title since 2015.
“This is an amazing experience,” center Danielle Feldkamp said. “I’ve dreaming of this moment since my freshman year. I remember being with the freshmen and JV team and watching the 2015 team play while in the stands. I so wanted to be on the floor with them even if it meant sitting on the bench. But, now I’m a big part of the team, and I’m a difference maker. It means a whole lot more.”
Mercy was 12-7 back on Jan. 24th and coming off a 46-34 loss to Butler, their second loss in three games.
Since then, the Jaguars have won 10 of their last 12, including six straight that included a 15-point victory over Butler in the regional semis.
“It’s a great feeling to be on top of the region,” junior guard Regan Berger said. “I was in eighth grade and got to watch Mercy go to state and now I get to experience that too.”
North Bullitt (24-9) struggled with Mercy’s full-court pressure, turning it over 12 times in the first-half, 19 for the game, and trailed 30-16 with 3:10 to go in the second quarter.
The Lady Eagles responded and went on a 13-6 run that spanned the end of the first-half and start of the second-half to cut the Mercy lead to 36-29 with 5:57 remaining in the third quarter.
“We were starting to play tight,” Baisch said. “Some of our players started to do their own thing. They were playing a little bit ahead and doing a bit of scoreboard watching. That’s what happens. We have to play within our system and take it possession by possession. Once we started to settle down, that’s when we went on our run. But, I was proud of them, and how they responded.”
The Jaguars went on a 25-12 run to take a 61-41 lead early in the fourth quarter, its largest of the game.
Mercy shot 20 of 41 (48.8 percent) from the field including 1 of 2 (50 percent) from three-point land and 23 of 41 (56.1 percent) from the charity stripe, 13 of 20 (65 percent) in the fourth quarter.
North Bullitt had no answer to the athletic Taziah Jenks and Feldkamp, six-foot-six Bellarmine signee.
“We definitely had a huge advantage there,” Baisch said. “We wanted to go inside-out, that’s always our game plan. But, North Bullitt did a great job on us. No. 25 (Caroline Janes), she was a stud for them tonight.
“She came in and was making that baseline jumper. She had 10 rebounds in the first half, I’m glad we only held her to five rebounds in the second half. That was one of our focus in the second half because she was playing so well.”
Jenks finished with a game high 22 points, hit 6 of 10 from the field, and 10 of 16 from the charity stripe.
“When North Bullitt got to within seven, we had to start locking down on defense and start rebounding better,” Jenks said. “At the time we weren’t. Once we started doing that, we were able to push back out our lead.”
The sophomore also had six rebounds and two steals.
Feldkamp, the Jaguars lone senior, added 11 points, was 5 of 8 from the field, and had four rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.
“I had a tough time because it was different than the Butler game when I was facing Molly (Lockhart),” Feldkamp said. “North Bullitt is a lot smaller, but quicker. They were definitely trying to push me around and knock me off my spot, but I knew I could a bit more active and hold my ground or toss the ball back out if I needed too.”
Berger added 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
“We wanted to move the ball a lot and give Danielle as many touches as we could,” Berger said. “We had a big advantage inside. That allowed us to use our inside-outside game.”
Hope Sivori added eight points, five rebounds, and four assists while Paige Taylor had five huge points off the bench that sparked their first-half run.
“Paige is starting to get comfortable with our system,” Baisch said. “She’s a heck of an athlete. But, when you haven’t played a whole year with our girls, I know she has been in practices for a year, but when you get out into a game, that’s when you have to go through the adversity and toughness together. It has taken a little bit for her to get going. But, she was huge for us this week.”
The Lady Eagles made 19 of 54 (35.2 percent) from the field including 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from three-point land and 7 of 10 (70 percent) from the free-throw line.
Hayle Free and Caroline Janes led North Bullitt with 15 points apiece. Sarah Janes added nine points.
The Janes twins dominated the boards as Caroline had 15 rebounds and Sarah had seven rebounds.
Mercy will play the Hazard vs. Knott County Central winner in the first round of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament at 12 p.m. Thursday at BB&T Arena in Highlands Heights, Ky.