By Paul Najjar
The Mercy Jaguars pulled off the upset of the year with their 65-53 win over No. 1-ranked Elizabethtown Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Republic Bank/Coca-Cola Girls LIT Friday night at Bellarmine University’s Knights Hall.
With the win, the first by a Kentucky high school team over the Panthers, Mercy advances to play Male in the second semifinal matchup at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Christian Academy.
Mercy (15-8) held E’town All-American Erin Boley to just 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting. She came into the contest averaging 25.4 points per game, shooting 60.5 percent from the field and making 40 of 79 of her three-point attempts (50.6 percent). She was 0 for 1 from three-point range and was 6 of 8 from the free-throw line. She registered a game-high 11 rebounds but was frustrated all night long by the relentless double teams and defensive pressure from the Jaguars.
“We’re still alive going into Saturday and we’ve always said this is one of the best tournaments in the state, so this is a great feeling,” Mercy head coach Keith Baisch said. “We’re a different team now than we were earlier in the year. I’m so proud of our kids for executing our game plan and doing whatever it takes to win.”
That game plan included denying Boley the ball on every possession. The Jaguars did that with a rotation of three players: freshman Raquael Reese, junior Josie Woods and senior Maria Schmitz. The trio of defenders, with Reese getting a majority of the time on the Notre Dame commit, took Boley out of the Panthers’ offense, forcing her teammates to pick up the scoring slack.
“They just said, ‘She’s not going to beat us’,” Elizabethtown head coach Tim Mudd said. “I think that’s something we should be able to handle because we’re old enough and mature enough. We just had a bad game, but you have to give credit to Mercy. I thought they executed their game plan really well and we didn’t react very well to that.”
Baisch and his assistants decided they would see what the other E’town players could do if his Jaguars could deny Boley the ball.
“She’s an All-American and it was a pick-your-poison type of situation and we didn’t want her to beat us,” Baisch said. “Heck, she single-handedly beat Butler with 39 points and they only scored 37 (in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic). We’ve upset the No. 2 team in the state (Butler) and now the No. 1 team in the state. There aren’t too many teams who can say that this year. It’s a testament to this team’s togetherness right now. The team chemistry is really strong.”
Nothing says team chemistry more than shutting down the best player in the state. The 6-foot-2 Boley towered over Reese and Woods, who both stand 5-9, as well as the 5-3 Schmitz. Reese relished the opportunity to defend Boley.
“I’ve guarded her before so I wasn’t shocked or anything, but I know how good she is,” Reese said. “Of course I was a little nervous. In the first game (on Dec. 10) we didn’t do man-to-man (defense) the whole game. So yeah, it was definitely a little more pressure because obviously I was on her the whole game.”
The Jaguars played deny defense on Boley every possession. With Reese, Woods and Schmitz rotating on her and keeping the ball away from her, a visibly frustrated Boley struggled all night on the offensive end.
Reese felt it was a little easier to guard Boley this time because of the directive to deny her the ball.
“I think so, yeah, because my main focus was just not letting her get the ball,” Reese said. “She is so good with the ball, so it was a little easier to do (the job).”
Mercy’s offense was effective against the several zone defenses E’town showed them. Whether a 2-3, 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 half-court trap, the Jaguars moved the ball crisply and efficiently and got open looks to take a 32-27 halftime lead.
The Jaguars extended their lead to 47-31 before the Panthers (19-3) peeled off an 11-1 run to get within 48-42 with 7:20 left. Mercy senior guard Jessica Laemmle stemmed the Panthers’ run with a 15-foot jumper and Josie Woods followed with a three to put the Jaguars up by 11, but E’town came right back.
Junior guard Jada Stinson, who scored a game-high 23 points, connected on two free throws and followed that with a layup on a Boley assist. Kendall Pack’s putback got the Panthers within 53-48 with 4:30 left and then Mercy went into stall mode, forcing the Panthers to foul.
Laemmle and Josie Woods netted 15 points apiece to pace the Jaguars. Both guards hit three three-pointers and combined to hit 6 of 11 from beyond the arc. Maddie Woods and Danielle Feldkamp scored 10 each. Josie Woods led Mercy in rebounding with nine and Feldkamp grabbed eight.
Mercy scored 19 second-chance points to E’town’s eight and the Jaguars scored 21 points off 14 E’town turnovers while the Panthers scored nine off of 12 Mercy miscues.
“Mercy made shots,” Mudd said. “We weren’t communicating well on defense and lost a few matchups. Right now, Mercy’s playing as good as anybody and their big kids have gotten better.”
In upset wins, the game often comes down to free-throw shooting and Mercy closed out the game shooting 12 of 12 from the line while E’town managed only five free throws down the stretch. Maddie Woods was 6 of 6, Laemmle 4 of 4 and Schmitz 2 of 2.
Both teams shot relatively equal with Mercy hitting 17 of 46 (37 percent) and E’town making 16 of 47 (34 percent). The difference was Mercy’s 25-of-31 (80.6 percent) shooting from the foul line while the Panthers made 17 of 21 (81 percent).
“They’re a very talented team and they still might win the state (tournament),” Baisch said of the Panthers. “I think it (playing from behind) was a little bit different for them tonight. They’re a very talented team and always tough to beat.”
Mercy, ranked No. 17 in the state, will face No. 4 Male in the second semifinal slated to start at 11:30 a.m. at Christian Academy. It will be a rematch of last year’s first-round state tournament game, which Male won 78-59. Follow @loucathsports on Twitter for game updates.