Ruffin scores 18 to lead Sacred Heart past Manual 57-42 in Seventh Region girls' basketball semis

It had been a year since a heartbreaking overtime loss to Manual ended her junior season, but Sacred Heart Academy’s DaiJia Ruffin hadn’t forgotten.

So when the Valkyries had a chance to face Manual again in Thursday’s Seventh Region Tournament semifinals, Ruffin and her teammates weren’t going to let a chance for revenge slip away.

“We didn’t take care of business last year, so we buckled down and did whatever we had to do to win this game,” Ruffin said. “We weren’t going to let history repeat itself.”

Raven Merriweather had 21 points and Ruffin added 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists as Sacred Heart whipped Manual 57-42 at Valley.

Gretchen Samsel added 13 points as Sacred Heart (26-7) — No. 8 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — advanced to face No. 9 Ballard (24-4) in Saturday’s 5 p.m. regional final.

Manual had won three straight Seventh Region titles and overcame a seven-point deficit with less than 2:00 remaining in regulation to beat Sacred Heart in last year’s semifinals.

It’s a game Valkyries coach Donna Moir hadn’t forgotten, either.

“Even though we got up 16 in the fourth quarter, I kept thinking, ‘Something’s going to happen,’ ” Moir said. “So it definitely played on mind.”

Teanna Curry scored 21 points and Krystaline McCune added 10 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks for No. 20 Manual (18-12), which shot 36.1 percent.

“I thought we had some good opportunities and just couldn’t get them to fall,” first-year Manual coach Jeff Sparks said. “I think our zone caused (Sacred Heart) some problems early, but they did a good job of adjusting to it and finding their shooters.”

Leading 12-9 after one quarter, Sacred Heart opened the second with a 13-2 run to take control. Merriweather scored six points during the spurt, including two free throws that gave the Valkyries a 25-11 lead with 2:48 left in the first half.

Ruffin said it took a while for the Valkyries to figure out Manual’s 2-3 zone.

“Not a lot of our 3-pointers fell today, so we needed to penetrate,” she said. “We recognized it eventually, and we did a good job of readjusting.”

Curry’s free throw pulled Manual within 29-21 with 5:26 left in the third quarter, but Ruffin answered with a 3-point play and Merriweather added a layup to make it 34-21 with 4:42 left. Manual never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

Merriweather finished 13 of 16 from the free-throw line, including 9 for 10 in the fourth quarter.

“DaiJia got some baskets early for us, and that helped calm us down,” Moir said. “And, obviously, late in the game we want Raven to get to the free-throw line because she’s our best free-throw shooter.”

Now it’s on to a highly anticipated regional final against Ballard, which beat Sacred Heart 58-56 on Jan. 16.

“Athletically, Ballard is a tough matchup,” Moir said. “We’ll have to shoot the ball better, and obviously Javonna (Layfield) makes things go for them. It will be a really good regional final. I think the best two teams are there, and whoever wins definitely will be the best team.”

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