Samsel's 3-pointers spark Sacred Heart past Eastern 80-64

Samsel's 3-pointers spark Sacred Heart past Eastern 80-64

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Samsel's 3-pointers spark Sacred Heart past Eastern 80-64

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Seniors Raven Merriweather and DaiJia Ruffin have been Sacred Heart Academy’s big guns most of the season, but it was Gretchen Samsel who pulled the rug from under Eastern in the Seventh Region Tournament’s first round Tuesday night.

Merriweather had 23 points and Ruffin 22 to lead the host Valkyries, No. 8 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, but Samsel hit all five of her 3-point shots in the second half to break it open in an 80-64 victory over No. 18 Eastern. The ­5-foot-4 junior finished with 17 points after shooting 0 for 4 in the first half.

“Gretchen is a streak shooter, and she was the key to us pulling away in the second half,” Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir said. “Eastern was packing it in (on defense) until they had to come out and guard Gretchen when she started hitting those threes. Gretchen was the key that opened it up for us.”

Sacred Heart, which hasn’t won a regional crown since capturing its third consecutive state championship in 2004, will take a 25-7 record into its semifinal game against defending regional champion Manual (18-11) at 5 p.m. Thursday at Valley. Manual eliminated Assumption 56-38 Tuesday night. Sacred Heart beat Manual 66-43 on Jan. 10.

Eastern, which got 28 points from Madison Raque, fell behind 13-2 but went ahead 30-29 on Jade Spaulding’s basket before Sacred Heart ran off seven straight points en route to a 36-34 halftime edge. Samsel and Merriweather began the third quarter by swishing back-to-back threes for a 42-34 edge.

“I didn’t score in the first half, but yeah, making my first shot to start the second half got me going,” Samsel said. “Sometimes I get lucky.”

Several of her five threes came from the left corner.

“That’s my hot spot, but not my only one,” said Samsel, who had hit 54 of 131 threes going into the game.

Eastern, which lost to Sacred Heart 77-49 on Dec. 17, was within 50-48 after Raque made a goal and added two free throws with 1:29 left in the third period.

Samsel then drove a dagger deeper into Eastern’s heart when her two quick threes raised the margin to 56-48 after three quarters. She hit two more threes in the fourth quarter for leads of 60-49 and 65-49.

Raque hit 8 of 17 shots, including 5 of 9 threes, and 7 of 8 free throws. Spaulding added 17 points, and Natalie Collins went 4 for 6 on threes for 12 points, but the Lady Eagles finished their season 18-9.

“My hat’s off to Raque,” Moir said. “We threw everything at her. She was shooting with people right on her and still she was hitting her shots. Spaulding is a good player, too.”

Eastern coach Josh Leslie was disappointed his team execute its game plan.

“We focused on three things in practice,” he said. “Taking away their baskets on runouts after we missed a shot, rebounding and running their shooters off the 3-point line. We didn’t do any of the three. That’s three strikes and we’re out.”

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