HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Chris Souder knew six years ago his Mercer County High School girls basketball program had a bright future once a group of fifth-graders began shining on the AAU circuit.
Now juniors, that group helped give the program its first state championship on Sunday.
Showcasing its deadly ability from 3-point range and its balanced scoring attack, Mercer County rolled to an 85-71 victory over Franklin County in the championship game of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet 16.
A crowd of 3,963 at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena saw the Titans (31-6) – No. 2 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – finish its season with a 13-game winning streak.
Along with senior Lyric Houston, who has committed to play softball at Lindsey Wilson, Mercer County features five juniors who have committed to NCAA Division I basketball programs. Seygan Robins (University of Louisville) is the leader and was named Sweet 16 MVP. Emmy Souder, the coach’s niece, is headed to NKU, and twins Lexy and Faith Lake and Emma Davis have committed to Southeast Missouri State.
“We just talked about them all staying together, and they have,” Chris Souder said. “There’s not an ounce of jealousy in any of them. It’s just been a special group that you get once in a lifetime as a coach.”
Emma Souder hit 12 of 14 free throws and scored 20 points to lead the Titans, who placed all five starters in double figures in scoring. Robins had 19 points and seven assists, and Lexy Lake hit 5 of 11 3-point tries for her 15 points. Houston pitched in 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, and Faith Lake added 10 points.
The Titans never trailed.
“I told them with two minutes left: ‘Look at the board. This is why we’re going to win a state championship. All five in double figures. This is what we’re about,’” Chris Souder said. “We were waiting on it. The twins have been struggling a little bit. Lyric had been struggling a little bit. But we talked to them last night, and, man, did they ever step up.”
Stellar 3-point shooting has been a trademark of these Titans, and they sank 11 of 22 attempts on Sunday. Over their four games in the Sweet 16, Mercer County shot 39.8 percent (37 of 93) from 3-point range.
Xavier University signee Princess Stewart scored 30 points to lead No. 9 Franklin County (33-6), which lost in the state final for the second straight season after falling to Butler 62-36 last year.
“We didn’t exactly get beat by a bunch of slaps,” Flyers coach Joey Thacker said. “That’s an awfully good basketball team. They’ve gotten better and better, but Robins is special. She keeps everybody involved, and she knows when she needs to go make a play.”
Mercer County endured slow starts in each of its first three Sweet 16 games but had no such problem Sunday. Robins sank a 3-pointer on the Titans’ first possession, and they led 13-3 midway through the first quarter and 26-11 at the end of it.
The Titans were 5 for 11 from 3-point range in the first quarter.
“When Seygan knocked down that 3 to start the game, I said, ‘Well, it’s on. It’s back to Mercer basketball,’” Chris Souder said.
Franklin County pulled within nine points twice in the first half and got within 72-64 on Savannah Courtney’s layup with 2:54 left in the game.
But as it did the entire game, Mercer County had an answer, as Lexy Lake nailed a 3-pointer for a 75-64 lead at the 2:40 mark.
“That’s one of our weapons is the fact that everybody can score and you can’t just faceguard one of us,” Robins said. “Somebody else is always going to step up.”
Both teams shot well – Franklin County at 54 percent and Mercer County at 53.2 percent – but the Titans dominated the boards (33-22) and were an offensive machine with 20 assists on 25 made baskets.
And with five juniors set to return next season, there’s already talk of a repeat.
“We still have one more year,” Emma Souder said. “Hopefully we can win another one next year.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
MERCER COUNTY 85, FRANKLIN COUNTY 71
FRANKLIN COUNTY (33-6) – Kindall Talley 3p; Princess Stewart 30p, 7r; Rebecca Cook 9p, 7r; Brooklynn Miles 5p, 3a; Savannah Courtney 10p; Samareah Levarity 2p; Josie Thacker 12p.
MERCER COUNTY (31-6) – Seygan Robins 19p, 7a; Faith Lake 10p; Lexy Lake 15p; Emma Souder 20p; Lyric Houston 14p, 13r, 7a; Emma Davis 7p, 6r.
MVP – Seygan Robins (Mercer County).
All-tournament team – Lexy Lake, Emma Souder (Mercer County); Princess Stewart, Kindall Talley, Savannah Courtney (Franklin County); Jaynice Stovall, Tyrah McClendon-Englemon (Holmes); Macey Turley, Maddie Waldrop (Murray); Emma Lander (Henderson County); Ally Niece (Simon Kenton); Shemaya Behanan (Clark County); Teri Goodlett (Butler).
Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches Patti Joe Hedges Ultimate Teammate Award – Maddie Waldrop (Murray).
Joe Billy Mansfield Award, sponsored by The Courier- Journal – Jennifer Merchant (Mercer County).