HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Nursing a two-point lead in the fourth quarter, Mercer County High School girls basketball coach Chris Souder trusted his team to take care of the basketball and hit free throws.
And the Titans rewarded their coach’s trust by advancing to the state championship game for the first time.
Emmy Souder scored 19 points and University of Louisville commit Seygan Robins added 16 points and five assists as Mercer County beat Murray 67-60 on Saturday in the semifinals of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet 16 in front of 4,332 fans at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.
Emma Davis, who scored 15 points, hit two free throws to give Mercer County a 51-49 lead with 4:55 left. After a Murray turnover, Chris Souder had his team go to a spread offense that forced Murray to foul.
“I looked at my staff and said, ‘OK, I’m going to pull it out again,’” Souder said. “They just laughed at me. It really puts pressure on (the defense).”
The Titans hit 16 of 20 free throws and committed just two turnovers in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. No. 2 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, Mercer County (30-6) will Franklin County in Sunday’s 2 p.m. state final.
In the Sweet 16 for the third straight year, Mercer County lost in the first round in 2015 and in the semifinals last year.
“It’s just incredible the way this program has evolved over the last several years,” said Souder, who has a junior-laden roster. “When they were (freshmen) they got beat by about 150 by E’town in the first round. Here we are right now. I’ve been a head coach for a long time, and this is special.”
Macey Turley had 20 points to lead No. 8 Murray (28-6), which had defeated No. 1 and defending state champion Butler 65-56 in Friday’s quarterfinals.
“(Mercer County) is the No. 2 team in the state for a reason, and we had to go back-to-back against the best,” Murray coach Rechelle Turner said. “But that’s what we wanted. I thought we fought and had our chances. A couple of balls didn’t bounce our way that might have made a difference.”
The Titans led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter and were up 36-29 at halftime before the Tigers rallied back and tied the score on Brittany Lawson’s 3-pointer with 5:06 left.
As Mercer County scored on its next three possessions, Murray committed turnovers on three of its next four.
►SEE ALSO: Franklin County, Holmes reach Sweet 16 semis
Souder said he was confident pulling the ball out down the stretch because of his team’s ability to knock down free throws and Robins’ ballhandling skills.
“We’ve had games where we haven’t shot it well, but we always seem to shoot it well down the stretch,” Souder said.
* Franklin County 51, Holmes 36: Xavier University signee Princess Stewart had 15 points and seven rebounds to lead the No. 9 Flyers (33-5) over the No. 12 Bulldogs (29-6) and into the state championship game for the second straight year.
Franklin County will take an 18-game winning streak into the state final against Mercer County, which beat the Flyers 72-63 on Jan. 12. Franklin County lost to Butler in last year’s state final.
Tyrah McClendon-Englemon and Jaynice Stovall both scored nine points to lead Holmes, which shot just 23.9 percent (11 of 46).
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
MERCER COUNTY 67, MURRAY 60
MERCER COUNTY (30-6) – Seygan Robins 16p, 5a; Faith Lake 3p, 7r; Lexy Lake 8p; Emmy Souder 19p; Lyric Houston 6p, 6r; Emma Davis 15p.
MURRAY (28-6) – Brittany Lawson 3p; Lex Mayes 15p, 4a; Macey Turley 20p, 6r; Maddie Waldrop 15p, 10r; Alexis Burpo 5p, 12r; Grace Campbell 2p.
FRANKLIN COUNTY 51, HOLMES 36
HOLMES (29-6) – Laila Johnson 8p, 6r; Latavia Keith 1p; Tyrah McClendon-Englemon 9p, 7r; Jaynice Stovall 9p; Megan Beckett 2p; Deara Stowers 7p.
FRANKLIN COUNTY (33-5) – Kindall Talley 5p; Princess Stewart 15p, 7r; Rebecca Cook 6p, 6r; Brooklynn Miles 12p, 6r; Savannah Courtney 7p; Olivia Hogan 6p.