Tuesday night, a couple of lesser-known players on the Manual girls basketball team gave the Crimsons’ stars a break, coming through in the clutch.
Junior forward Aniah Griffin and senior guard Marlena Groves both made big plays down the stretch in Manual’s come-from-behind, 65-63 victory over visiting Mercy in a matchup of Top 10 teams.
Griffin and Groves combined for 17 of their team’s 21 fourth-quarter points as the Crimsons (13-3), who are No. 5 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, erased a six-point deficit against the No. 9 Jaguars (9-8).
Griffin, who didn’t make a shot in the first three quarters, hit a quartet of 3-pointers in the final period. Groves, meanwhile, hit three free throws in the final 30 seconds, then got her own rebound after missing a fourth freebie with 1.2 seconds left to seal the win.
“It’s fun to see different kids have that opportunity and be able to succeed in those kinds of moments,” Manual coach Jeff Sparks said. “We spend a lot of time talking about ‘team,’ and different team members had to step up tonight and help us out.”
The Crimsons, though, had to dig themselves out of an early hole.
Mercy came out on fire, hitting eight of its first 13 shots – including four 3-pointers – to build an 11-point first-quarter lead.
Josie Woods’ third 3-pointer of the game extended the Jags’ advantage to 30-16 less than a minute into the second period.
But then the Crimsons began their comeback, spearheaded by star Tonysha Curry. The 5-foot-10 senior forward had a part in 13 points (with four baskets, a free throw and two assists) in a 19-4 surge that gave Manual its first lead.
The Jags, though, reclaimed the lead just before the half at 37-35, then added to their advantage in the third quarter. Sadie Zeisloft’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer put Mercy up 50-44 heading into the final frame, setting the stage for the heroics of Griffin and Groves.
Griffin, who entered the game shooting 30 percent from 3-point range, hit her first 3 just 23 seconds into the fourth quarter before adding another three minutes later to tie it up.
“I started shooting when I was open…then once the first one went in it just turned me on,” Griffin said.
Midway through the period, Jaela Johnson, the team’s leading scorer (22.2 points per game), went to the bench with muscle cramps. She did not return. In her place, Griffin delivered.
“I knew I had to step up,” she said.
Griffin’s third 3-pointer broke a 56-all tie and gave Manual the lead for good with 3:36 left. She drilled another one with 2:07 to play to boost the Crimsons’ advantage to five.
The Jags had a chance to win in the final seconds after Curry missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.6 seconds left. With Manual leading 64-63, Mercy worked the ball around the perimeter before freshman Hope Sivori launched a 3-pointer. Her shot rattled in and out, and Groves was fouled on the rebound.
Groves, who hit a jumper early in the quarter and drilled two free throws with 30 seconds left, hit her first foul shot but missed the second. However, she snared her own rebound to preserve the win.
Curry led Manual with 15 points and 15 rebounds while Nila Blackford added 12 and nine. Johnson finished with 11 points for the Crimsons, who shot 49 percent from the field.
Woods scored a game-high 19 points, on the strength of five 3-pointers, and grabbed nine rebounds for Mercy, which shot 40 percent (20 for 50) from the field. Danielle Feldkamp added 16 points for the Jags, who have played a very difficult early-season schedule.
“It’s one of the top in the country,” Mercy coach Keith Baisch said. “We’re challenging ourselves and that’s what we want to do. I told the kids in there tonight, I’m really proud of them for their fight, but we made some mistakes.”
MANUAL 65, MERCY 63
Josie Woods 19p, 9r; Hope Sivori 5p; Raquel Reese 5p; Regan Berger 11p, 6a; Danielle Feldkamp 16p, 5r; Sadie Zeisolft 7p.
Jaela Johnson 11p; Tonysha Curry 15p, 15r, 4a; Tyonne Howard 8p, 4stl; Nila Blackford 12p, 9r; Marlena Groves 7p; Griffin 12p.