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The state's hottest team was doused early and often in the first round of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association girls' state tournament Wednesday.
Marion County, ranked No. 1 nearly all season and the tournament favorite heading into state, was pressured into uncharacteristic mistakes as Mercy Academy rolled 67-51 in their first game en route to a state championship.
At times the Lady Knights looked overwhelmed on the big stage.
"It's a big environment, a big stage," Lady Knights freshman Makayla Epps said. "Like I said, we've never been here, we didn't know what it was going to feel like or be like and it was intense... It was a lot. It was a lot."
Lady Knights Head Coach Trent Milby felt like the senior laden Jaguars wanted it more Wednesday.
"We're a young basketball team but we're not going to make that as the excuse in this game here," he said. "Mercy outplayed us, they out coached us, they did everything right and we just couldn't get going and get over the hump."
After scoring the first basket, Marion County found themselves down the rest of the way. They cut the deficit to three before heading into the locker room at halftime but Mercy came out gunning in the second half to seize control.
Despite beating Mercy by 16 at the Roby Dome weeks earlier, the Lady Knights didn't look like the same team. Milby and Epps insisted Mercy changed little since the last outing.
"They played about the same, they didn't change up much at all," Milby said. "They were just a step faster than we were tonight and that night we were the aggressor and they were on their heels. I know (Therese) Montano didn't play the first time, obviously she's a good player but (Ellen Sholtes) is the one that gets them going, in my opinion. (Sholtes) made a lot of plays and Montano really didn't hurt us that much."
Sholtes led the Jaguars balanced scoring attack with 16 points.
Epps agreed with Milby that nothing changed but added that the Jaguars basketball IQ may have been too much for the Lady Knights.
"Nothing was really different," Epps said. "I guess, mentally they got us beat because we're not the smartest and most mental team out there. They are older and smarter than we are but I mean, that really doesn't matter."
Kyvin Goodin-Rogers gave Mercy match up problems again, this time scoring 18 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and swatting away five shots.
Makayla Epps had flashes of brilliance en route to 13 points. A behind-the-back pass on a fast break wowed the crowd. However, it wasn't enough.
With a little over two minutes left, Milby conceded defeat and removed his starters.
"We were beat," he said. "We're down 15 so those girls put a lot of time in this year as well and I just wanted them to get out there on the floor. They'll all be back so hopefully one of those players there at the end may end up being a big part of this team next year and the year after. I just wanted to give them a feel and reward them for being a good team player."
The Lady Knights will lose seniors Andrea King, Alyson King, Tee Bridgewater and Jassmine Franklin. After the game Milby sent a message to his team to help replace the outgoing talent.
"I'm proud of this team. We are a young basketball team but we do lose Andrea over here," he said. "Somebody is going to have to really improve over the summer and step into that role that she's had all year."
Marion 12 17 15 7 - 51
Mercy 22 10 23 12 - 67
Marion County (33-2) - Makayla Epps 13, Brooke Roberts 5, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers 18, Bre Elder 6, Andrea King 7, Jassmine Franklin 2
Mercy (24-8) - Malisa Cruz 10, Lauren Faris 9, Therese Montano 5, Emily Goetz 13, Ellen Sholtes 16, Juliann Miller 12, Courtney Roush 2