For the third time in four seasons, Career and Mercy will square off in the SCC tournament. The two meet in the semifinals Monday at 7:45 p.m. at Law High in Milford.
Career and Mercy have been the most dominant programs in the league of late, having won a combined seven titles since 2006. Mercy is the two-time defending champion, while the Panthers captured the title in 2013 and 2012.
“Over the years it’s been a pretty good rivalry,” Career coach Steve Bethke said. “Our kids get up for them, and they get up for us.”
Mercy is the tournament’s top seed for the third straight season. The Tigers (20-1) have not lost a league game this year. Mercy’s lone loss was to top-ranked Capital Prep.
“This year, talent-wise, they are the best in the SCC,” Bethke said about Mercy. “But I don’t think that anyone cannot be beaten. The whole league has been a little inconsistent this year, there was a lot of parity. It was that balanced this year.”
The fifth-seeded Panthers (14-8) lost to Mercy 46-39 on Feb. 9. Career led by two at halftime before the Tigers rallied in the second half.
“It was close throughout,” Bethke said. “They opened up an eight-point lead at the end of three and then we cut it to five (in the fourth). They had their run and we couldn’t answer.
“But I was really happy with the effort, we played really hard. On the defensive end we did our job. I would like to keep them to 46 points, but we need to do a better job of scoring.”
With a relatively young group, Mercy may be more vulnerable than in past years, but it seemingly takes a perfect game to defeat the Tigers.
“You have to eliminate easy baskets,” Bethke said. “You can’t let them run and get 14, 16 points in transition. You have to make them work for everything they get.”
Career has been somewhat streaky this season. The Panthers lost four of its first seven games but then won six in a row to improve to 9-4. As part of that winning streak on Jan. 21 in a victory over East Haven, the Panthers lost sophomore forward Nia Hubbard for the season with a knee injury. Career closed out the regular season going just 3-4. Hubbard averaged between eight and 10 points per game prior to the injury.
“She was our best defensive player,” Bethke said.
Bethke said his team is ready for the rematch with Mercy.
“I think we work for the postseason,” Bethke said. “Obviously over the years we’ve had pretty good success. Hopefully it will be a good game tomorrow night.”
Second half surge
Although Guilford lost to Hand in the SCC quarterfinals, the Indians enter the Class L state tournament on quite the roll.
Guilford went 4-6 during the season’s first half but have since won nine of its last 12 games, including a victory over Hillhouse in the SCC first round.
“I think they’ve played more loosely and more confidently,” Guilford coach Bob Welsh said. “We started to hit some outside 3s.”
Sophomore forward Amanda King and junior center Camryn Craig have both improved as the season progressed.
“King has gotten more relaxed, “Welsh said. She has started not to settle for 3s. She has started to attack the basket a little bit. Camryn Craig has been an absolute monster for us. She’s been averaging four or five blocks, nine rebounds and about 10 points the last seven games. She’s been incredible. That makes a big difference.”
Junior guard Izzy Nerney has also been a factor in the Indians’ consistent play.
“Izzy is not a prototypical point guard, but she’s done a nice job of adjusting to that for me this year,” Welsh said. “She’s smart. She’s like my coach on the floor. And she’s a junior. It’ll be nice to have her back (next season).”
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