By Eric Thorne
Mercer County and Manual went toe-to-toe in a battle that looked like a state championship final, but Seygan Robins’ 31 points sent Mercer County into the semifinals of the Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Girls Louisville Invitational Tournament with a 70-67 overtime win.
However, it was a dramatic three-pointer from Aniah Griffin who banked home the shot with 02.2 seconds left in regulation for Manual to force the extra period.
“I’m a shooter, but I wasn’t really sure that shot was going in,” Griffin said. “I was open so I just took the shot and it went in. Unfortunately I really wanted to get the win, and I thought we really could have.”
The sophomore contributed big for the Lady Crimson’s off the bench with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
However, it was Robins who, despite struggling from the field on nine of 25 shooting, was clutch at the foul line, draining 10 of 12. It was the intangibles and confidence she showed in eyeing opportunities to drive for shots and find her open teammates.
“I think we played really well and it seemed like a final four type of game out there with both teams just giving it their all at both ends,” Robins said. “I think when we go up against great competition, it brings out our best. When she hit that crazy shot, we just had to keep playing.”
“That was a great win for our kids and I told them what a great place and way to learn,” Mercer County coach Chris Souder said. “Emma (Souder), Lyric (Houston) and Seygan just battled hard all night.
Mercer County (17-3) played to its strength to open the game hitting three pointers. The Titans hit 5 of 7 in the opening quarter led by Seygan Robins with two and 10 points. They also forced six Manual turnovers while shooting 58.3 percent from the field.
“They came out on fire to state and we told the girls to keep battling and our time will come to make our runs,” Manual coach Jeff Sparks said. “Aniah played well all night and then at the end of regulation she really was the third options. But they went zone on us and she was open and she stepped in and hit a big shot on a heads up play.”
Manual (12-5) rallied back in the second quarter behind Jaela Johnson who scored the first seven to pull the Lady Crimson’s back to trail 26-23, but Mercer County moved back in front 33-27 on a three by Houston.
Houston netted 18 points and hauled down eight rebounds for the game.
Johnson hitting shots inside and out and had 24 points after three quarters and pushed Manual ahead 52-46 as the defense held the Titans without a three in the quarter.
She finished with 27 points.
Mercer County was holding the ball during the final 1:50 until Robins spotted an opening and drove from midcourt and was fouled with 36.6 seconds. She made 1 of 2 foul shots giving the Titans a 60-59 lead.
Robins then forced a turnover by Johnson at midcourt and was fouled by Johnson. Robins made both foul shots for Mercer County.
Manual looking for the tie and Aniah Griffin, banked home a three-pointer from the right arc with 2.2 seconds left to force overtime for her 15 points.
“I just told the girls that’s part of the game,” Souder said. “So she banked it in so what just go out and keep playing,” That was a tough, tough battle and a win like this will only help us in the long run.”
Souder fouled out with 13 points and six rebounds chasing a rebound with 3:06 left and her team up 64-63 in the overtime period. With the game knotted at 67-67 it was Robins with a weaving, drive down the lane to give her team the win.
“I think we just take from this game we must get better because it is a game we really wanted to win,” Sparks said. “They are a great team, and we’re not where we want to be. We pressed well and forced turnovers, but we simply didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”
Mercer County will face Butler in the semifinals of the LIT at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Christian Academy of Louisville.