MIDDLETOWN >> After a rough first half in which Mercy couldn’t get into a rhythm or even crack 20 points against rival Career in the Class LL quarterfinals, Tigers coach Tim Kohs had a simple halftime message for his team according to Maura Fitzpatrick.
“He basically said go out there and win or just don’t go out there at all,” she said.
The third-seeded Tigers came out of the locker room for the second half and rallied from down 10 in the fourth quarter to eliminate sixth-seeded Career 48-43 on Monday.
Mercy improves to 25-1 and moves on to the semifinals with a chance to play in the state title game for a fifth consecutive year.
Fitzpatrick said Kohs halftime speech was needed.
“This is our home court,” she said. “I don’t want to go out here.”
The Tigers will face a familiar foe in the semifinals in second-seeded Lauralton Hall on Friday at a site and time to be announced.
The Tigers defeated the Crusaders on a buzzer-beater in last season’s final.
As Mercy moves on to the next round, 2013 All-Area Most Valuable Player Career’s Tanaya Atkinson will move on from high school basketball to college. Despite the loss, the Temple University-bound senior was still smiling when she looked back at her time with the Panthers.
“It’s a family atmosphere (at Career),” she said. “I’ve felt at home, going to my teammate’s houses, eating their food and just doing everything.”
Atkinson led Career (22-4) with 21 points. Brooklin Davis chipped in 12 points.
Mercy was led by the usual suspects as Kendra Landy went for 13 points and Maura Fitzpatrick added 10 points. However, an unsung hero stepped up for the Tigers according to Kohs, as Morgan Cahill added 10 points of her own.
“That was the game of her life,” Kohs said. “As far as intensity and effort, and she’s a very talented kid, she got her hands on loose balls, she scored, she was involved in every play tonight.”
Mercy went into the fourth down 34-27 before outscoring the Panthers 21-9 in the quarter. The Tigers’ long range shots weren’t falling, but defensively Mercy took control.
Career struggled to find baskets and watched its lead dwindle away during a Tigers’ 8-0 run to make it a one point game at 36-35.
Career jumped back out in front after a pair of Davis free throws, but Mercy would not go away.
Fitzpatrick connected on a layup to cut it to one and made two free throws to give the Tigers their first second-half lead.
“Throughout the season I’ve actually been struggling with my free throws,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was thinking to myself confidence, confidence, you’ve got to be confident when you shoot.”
The Tigers have been confident all season. Before the game, Mercy warmed up in t-shirts that read, “New Team, Same Dream.” Kohs said his new team has made him proud.
“This is a whole new group,” he said. “And to be 25-1 is a heck of an accomplishment.”