A key stretch of dogged defense propelled Mercy past Sacred Heart in a battle between two of the city’s top girls’ basketball teams Sunday evening.
The visiting Jaguars used an 11-0 run early in the third quarter, when they forced six consecutive Valkyrie turnovers, to take command in their 58-52 win.
Senior forward Malerie Martin scored 16 points and junior guard Jessica Laemmle added 15 points to lead Mercy (20-7), which is No. 13 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, to its fifth straight win.
“In practice we’ve really been stressing defense, defense, defense, because that’s what makes us go,” said Laemmle, who added nine rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals for last year’s Sixth Region runners-up.
Sacred Heart freshman guard Kiki Samsel, who kept her team in the game with her hot shooting in the first half, tallied a game-high 21 points. Her classmate, forward Grace Berger, added 17 points for the Valkyries (17-10), who suffered their fourth straight setback.
A pair of free throws from Samsel gave Sacred Heart a 5-4 lead early before the Jaguars scored seven straight points to take control. The Valkyries closed to within two (15-13) at the end of the first quarter before Lydia Taylor’s putback tied the score 29 seconds into the second. The two teams then traded 5-0 runs before a layup by Laemmle gave Mercy the lead back. Samsel answered with a 3. That, though, was Sacred Heart’s last lead.
Martin hit two free throws then Laemmle buried a 3 to start a half-ending 10-3 run by the Jaguars, who led 32-26 at intermission.
Taylor’s basket 18 seconds into the second half cut the Valkyries’ deficit to four before Mercy made its run.
Mackenzie Stovall got things going with an old-fashioned three-point play before Laemmle followed with a layup on the heels of a Sacred Heart turnover.
“We knew they had some young guards, we just tried to get in their heads and push the tempo,” Laemmle said.
Martin then hit a 3 from the top of the key before Madison Woods made a layup to make it 43-28 with 5:51 left in the third quarter.
“We just came out flat after halftime. That’s just part of the inexperience,” said Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir, who started three freshmen.
The Valkyries responded with an 8-0 run, keyed by five points from Berger, but the damage was already done.
Sacred Heart trimmed Mercy’s lead to six in the final minute but got no closer.
“We just couldn’t get that one basket to get us over the hump,” said Moir, whose team committed 22 turnovers.
Mercy made 38.8 percent (19 for 49) of its shots, including 45 percent (9 for 20) in the second half. By comparison Sacred Heart shot 32 percent (16 for 50) — only 29.6 percent (8 for 27) in the second half.
The Jaguars won the rebound battle 39-28, led by Stovall (10). Senior Ashley Johnson paced the Valkyries with eight rebounds.
Mercy (20-7) – Stovall 9, Woods 6, Bewley 5, Laemmle 15, Martin 16, Schmitz 4, Gross 3.
Sacred Heart (17-10) – Johnson 5, Samsel 21, Sivils 2, Berger 17, Taylor 4, Colley 3.
3-point goals – Samsel 4, Martin 2, Berger 1, Bewley 1, Colley 1, Johnson 1, Laemmle 1.