By LARRY VAUGHT
In the last four years, the Titans are now 115-22 and just won their third straight 12th Region championship — something that had not been done in the 12th Region for 38 years.
What makes this even more impressive is that five of Mercer’s top six players this year are juniors — and are all already verbally committed to Division I schools.
“It really hasn’t sank in yet what these girls have accomplished,” said Mercer coach Chis Souder, who got his 400th win with the Titans earlier this season, said. “To think of all the great 12th region teams and no one has done it since the 70’s is really hard to wrap my head around. I know one thing — it never gets old!”
The Titans beat Lincoln County 83-67 Saturday night to win the region title behind 31 points from Louisville commit Seygan Robins, an obvious 2018 Miss Basketball candidate. The 16-point margin was the closest Mercer has had in five postseason games this season.
Mercer will face Region 16 winner Boyd County (26-8) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Northern Kentucky University in the first round of the state tourney.
Three years ago the Titans went 28-6 and lost to Danville in the regional title game. Two years ago they finished 29-4 and lost to Elizabethtown in the first game at the state. Last year they were 31-6 and lost in the semifinals to Franklin County after winning two state tourney games.
They have a 10-game winning streak going into the state tourney and are one of the teams given a legitimate chance to win the title.
“I told the girls we certainly want to win a state championship but everything from here on out is a bonus,” Souder, who has won 16 of 18 46th District titles at Mercer, said. “These girls never cease to amaze me, so i would definitely not count them out.
“Going into the Sweet 16 you just have to figure out logistics for your team and make sure everyone is on the same page with rest, eating properly etc. The biggest thing with the Sweet 16 is that I want to win but more importantly I want them to enjoy every second.”
Believe him. I saw video of the team on its bus ride back home Saturday night that include a variety of dance moves, a traditional Chinese fire drill and a police escort back into Harrodsburg.
“That was the wildest bus ride I have been on in my 28 years as a coach,” Souder said. “I absolutely think they were able to relax after all the pressure. It is really a side of them I have never seen.”
This was a pressure-packs season. Souder loaded up the schedule, including two big-time national tournaments. Throw in the Division I recruiting interest and there was always a spotlight on this incredible group but the Titans never lost focus on their goal.
Robins now has 2,042 points, most in school history. Lyric Houston, the only senior among the top six players, had 1,607 points — second most in school history. Junior Faith Lake has 1,047 while Emma Davis has 882, Lexy Lake 863 and Emmy Souder 824. Lexy Lake, Faith Lake and Emma Davis are all committed to Southeast Missouri while Emmy Souder recently committed to Northern Kentucky.
Now the coach hopes wins over Boyle County, Southwestern and Lincoln in the region got his team ready for a big state run.
“All three teams challenged us in different ways,” the Mercer coach said. “It was very good for us to have to really grind these games out. Also shows that our girls didn’t overlook anyone.”
And no one better overlook the Titans at the state tourney either.