On Monday night, Mercy topped Butler 46-43 at Valley High School to win the sixth region title. The victory marks their second straight regional championship.
The first half was all about TaZiah Jenks. The junior had eight of Mercy’s ten first quarter points, and finished with 11 of their 21 points at halftime. Unfortunately for Mercy, Butler had an answer for everything in the first half. A couple of three’s from CaLeia Mills and key buckets from JB Kelly and Jasmine Elder have Butler a six point halftime lead.
Mercy kept knocking on the door in the third quarter, but back-to-back triples from Mills and Elder pushed the Bearette lead to seven, their largest of the night.
“At halftime, we just told each other that there’s 16 minutes left”, Mercy point guard Hope Sivori recalled, “the loser goes home.”
The Jaguars would soon respond. A quick run capped off by a steal and layup from Sivori tied the game at 32 early in the final period. The two teams would take turns trading baskets, until Paige Taylor banged home a pivotal three-pointer.
Elder had an answer of her own, cutting the Mercy lead to one, but a charge drawn by Jalyn Shorter set up Hope Sivori’s pair of free throws. The game-tying shot would not fall for Butler and Mercy would come out on top.
“Anytime you play a good team, it’s going to be a game of runs”, Baisch said, “it took us awhile to get over the jump and get the lead. The execution on offense (fourth quarter) was probably the best we’ve had all year.”
The Bearettes finish the season at 22-9. Elder and Kelly led Butler with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Jenks scores a game-high 21 points and added nine rebounds to pace Mercy. “My team and I fought all the way through”, she said, “it’s an exciting feeling.”
Sivori also scored 14 points of her own, nine of them coming in the fourth quarter. For the junior, the journey has been wild. “We’ve been on a roller coaster all season”, she said, “tonight we knew we had to bring our “A” game.”
“It’s unbelievable”, Baisch explained when talking about his team’s journey, “for what these kids have overcome this year. We preached to our kids all year long that it’s all about February and March.”
The Jaguars (15-14) will advance to next week’s state tournament at Rupp Arena as they take on the winner of Region 10 at 6:30 on Wednesday night. For Mercy, they look to avenge a second-place finish in last year’s state tournament. “The good thing is we have a lot of experience”, Baisch said, “I think the biggest thing is going to be playing at Rupp Arena. We’ve got a gauntlet to go through.”
MERCY: 10 5 13 18- 46
BUTLER: 11 10 11 11- 43