Malerie Martin missed most of Mercy’s loss to Butler in last year’s Sixth Region final after tearing her ACL early in the game.
The 6-foot senior forward wanted to make up for lost time, and that loss, Friday night. She did.
Martin scored a game-high 15 points to lead the Jaguars to a 56-53 victory over the defending state champion Bearettes in a top-15 showdown — and if recent history is any indication, a preview of another region final — at Mercy.
“It wasn’t really about revenge, it was more motivation to come back,” said Martin, who was injured in the first quarter of Butler’s 55-47 win last March.
Motivated Mercy (12-5), which is No. 15 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, also received 11 points from senior guard Hannah Bewley and forced 27 turnovers to beat the No. 8 Bearettes for just the second time in the last six meetings between the two.
Butler missed a shot to tie it at the final buzzer. The loss, however, was more about missed opportunities for the youthful Bearettes, who missed three shots and had two turnovers after pulling within one point with 2:15 to play.
“We had chances the whole game. We just couldn’t finish,” said Butler coach Larry Just, who started a senior, a junior, two sophomores and an eighth-grader against the Jags. “But that’s part of learning for a young team.”
The maturity of Mercy, which started three seniors and two juniors, showed early as it raced out to an 8-0 lead.
Despite nine first-quarter turnovers the Bearettes (12-3) cut the Jags’ lead to one (15-14) 9 seconds into the second quarter before Mercy made another run, this one 11-0. Kassidy Kiesel’s two free throws capped the run and gave the Jaguars their largest lead (26-14).
But Butler didn’t back down. The Bearettes outscored the Jags 20-3 over the final 2:56 of the first half spurred by junior reserve Micaiah Bowden, who had eight points — sandwiching a pair of 3-pointers around a half-hook that gave Butler its first lead — in that surge.
The Bearettes picked up where they left off to start the second half, scoring the first five points of the third quarter to open up a 39-29 lead.
“We knew it was going to be a game of runs,” Mercy coach Keith Baisch said. “We told the kids before the game that we needed to keep our composure when they make their run. We knew it was going to happen, we just didn’t know it was going to be that big.
“But the kids, they fought back and kept it under control.”
The Jaguars answered by scoring 11 straight, capped by Martin’s fourth 3-pointer, to retake the lead, 40-39, with 1:28 to play in the period.
Butler battled back to lead 44-42 after three before Mercy started the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run that included five points from Kiesel on an old-fashioned three-point play and a layup.
Mercy led 54-47 midway through the finial period before Butler scored six straight. Jaelynn Penn’s steal and layup made it 54-53 with 2:15 to play. Those were the Bearettes finally points, however.
Mercy held on from there, despite missing 4 of 6 free throw attempts in the final 49.2 seconds.
“They almost gave me a heart attack,” Baisch joked afterward.
Butler’s Bre Torrens missed a well-guarded 3 from the wing at the buzzer.
Sophomore forward Janna Lewis scored 11 points off the bench while sophomore Tasia Jeffries tallied 10 for the Bearettes, who have faced Mercy in the last three Sixth Region finals.
“When we see them again, we’ll be even more ready,” Martin said.
Butler (12-3) – Just 6, Casey 4, Penn 5, Torrens 7, Lewis 11, Winebrenner 2, Bowden 8, Jeffries 10.
Mercy (12-5) – Stovall 8, Bewley 11, Laemmle 7, Martin 15, Schmitz 5, Kiesel 7, Gross 2, Muthler 1.
3-point goals – Martin 4, Bowden 2, Jeffries 2, Just 2, Laemmle 2, Torrens 1.