WALLINGFORD >> Pretty it wasn’t. Indeed, for the first half, it was pretty ugly.
But in the end, it was a win for the second-ranked Mercy Tigers in the quarterfinal round of the Southern Connecticut Conference playoffs at Sheehan Saturday afternoon.
Mercy (18-3) will play the first game of the semifinal round Monday at 6 p.m. at Law in Milford. Mercy will face the winner of Saturday’s final game, either Career or Guilford, in the semifinals.
“The good news is that we will be playing Monday,” Mercy coach Tim Kohs said following his club’s 52-40 win over Hillhouse. “The bad news is that if we continue to play like this it will be a short postseason.”
The performance by the Tigers took Kohs by surprise.
“We had a good shoot-around this morning and I had a very good feeling about this game,” Kohs said. “In fact, I told my assistants I believed we were going to play very well.
“But we didn’t play well in any phase of the game. I thought we were ready to play, but we weren’t. It’s not the effort. We played hard. But we played no attention to detail and had no focus. We need to be crisper and better at what we do. But at the end of the game, we did enough to win.”
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Hillhouse (10-12) led for much of the first quarter and was ahead 11-9 after one. Mercy led for much of the second quarter, but couldn’t shake the Academics and only led 19-17 at the break.
Much of Mercy’s inability to pull away came at the free throw line where the Tigers were a dismal 4-of-13.
Hillhouse tied the game 19-19 on a hoop by Tyree Allen to start the second half, but Mercy took control with a 12-1 run and led 31-20 with 3:18 left in the third.
But as quickly as the Tigers took the 11-point lead, they just as quickly gave seven of it back as Hillhouse responded with a 7-0 run to get the lead down to 31-27 with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
That’s when Mercy’s Bella Santoro (16 points) hit her team’s biggest hoop of the game, a three-pointer with a minute to go and Mercy led 34-27 going to the final eight minutes.
“That was a big three,” said Kohs. “She had a very good second half, but I think she needs to be a little more aggressive a little more consistently. The times she was, it opened up things for us.”
Mercy maintained most of that lead for the rest of the game. Three times Hillhouse got to within six, but each time the Tigers responded.
At 38-32, Keri Kernisan hit a 3-pointer — her only points of the game — to give the Tigers a 41-32 lead with 4:19 left. At 44-38, Santoro hit two free throws to get the lead back to eight with 1:19 to go. At 46-40, after Kohs was hit with a technical foul and both shots were made by Allen, Kameryn King hit two freebies with 51 seconds to go and Mercy was out of danger at 48-40.
“My team played really tough,” Hillhouse coach Catrina Hawley-Stewart said. “We’re young [Hillhouse started a junior, two sophomores and a freshman] and in the second half we just had a hard time getting the ball in the basket.
“I thought our defense harassed and disrupted them, but they have great shooters and they were composed at the end of the game.”
Besides Santoro and DeVille, Samantha Chapps was also in double figures with 10. Tanayja London led the Acs with 16 and Dale had 11. Both teams shot better from the line in the second half, but the final numbers — Mercy was 17-for-26 while Hillhouse was 17-for-31 — were mediocre.
SCC Quarterfinals at Sheehan
Mercy 52, Hillhouse 40
Hillhouse (10-12) 11 6 10 13 — 40
Mercy (18-3) 9 10 15 18 — 52
Hillhouse: Tyree Allen 2-3-8, Keyshan Moore 1 1 3, Latoya Dale 2-7-11, Ranasha Fraizer 1-0-2, Tanaja London 5-6-16. Totals: 11-17-40
Mercy: Bella Santoro 4-7-16 , Kameryn King 1-5-7, Keri Kernisan 1-0-3, Samantha Chapps 5-2-13, Nicole Ladas 1-1-3, Meghan DeVille 4-2-10. Totals: 13-17-52.
Three-point goals: Hillhouse (1) Allen; Mercy (3) Chapps, Kernisan, Santoro.
Fouled out: London.