Two excellent basketball programs showed they deserve to be ranked among Class A’s best in a thrilling Friday night doubleheader. The Landmark Christian boys won a 100-91 shootout, while the Our Lady of Mercy girls pulled away late for a 52-38 victory.
In Class A, the playoff participants are selected via power rankings with the top 16 teams making the postseason. Right now, three of Friday’s four squads would be in (and the fourth is right on the cusp). The teams played every bit like playoff squads with a big and boisterous crowd helping to fuel the action.
Landmark’s boys surged in the second half and held on against a furious Mercy charge in a wild, high-scoring battle.
“(Mercy) brings it every time. They’re ready and prepared and play their hearts out against us. (Coach Tony Caruso) does a great job,” said Landmark boys coach Chip McAllister. “We were getting good shots, they just weren’t falling. Our team slogan is ‘let it fly,’ so none of our kids should be afraid to shoot whenever. We knew if we kept fighting, we would start making shots.”
For Mercy, the ending wasn’t what they hoped, but there was plenty to like about the way they pushed the number seven-ranked War Eagles. While both teams were whistled plenty in the early going, with both in the double bonus most of the second quarter, the Bobcats were in heavy foul trouble early in the second half and had to adapt their defensive approach.
“It’s definitely not the outcome we wanted, but I was real pleased with our kids,” said Mercy coach Tony Caruso. “I thought in the first half we played really well. We were really effective. Then we got in foul trouble, and that really killed us.”
The tip-off of the game might as well have been the firing of the starter’s pistol at a track meet. Each possession had the feel of a fast break as Landmark employed their usual breakneck pace on offense and, on the other end, Mercy cracked the full court press with long passes over the top of the defense.
Cedric Labat opened the scoring for the Bobcats with a three. Chib Emefo added a pair of buckets in the first frame as Mercy built a slim lead. Landmark surged in front, paced early by Zack Allen and his eight first quarter points. Threes from Stockton McGuire and Jack Patterson gave the War Eagles their first lead at 14-12. It grew to a seven point margin before the Bobcats closed strong on another Labat three and scores from George Haynes and Aaron Urshery to narrow the deficit to 22-19 at the end of the quarter.
Emefo tied the game on a trey to start the second quarter, then Josh Hurst started the lead seesaw with a layup. Patterson and Allen both hit from deep as the game hit a 28-28 tie. Mercy pulled back in front, highlighted by a long pass from Anthony Caruso to Hurst for a lay-in.
Urshery took his turn with a five point run, sinking a three, then two free throws to stake Mercy to a 44-43 halftime lead.
Mercy was scorching hot to start the second half, ripping off an 11-1 run. Anthony Caruso kicked it off with a steal and coast-to-coast layup. Labat followed with a three and Hurst finished it with a spectacular up-and-under bucket and his own three.
Trailing 55-44, Landmark didn’t get down. They turned Jackson Schultz, who caught on fire in the second half and finished with 29 points.
“I thought we had done a good job on (Jackson) Schultz. We had held him to three points in the first half,” said Caruso. “He did a great job. In the second half, he just got to the basket.”
With Schultz slicing to the hoop, it opened up the perimeter for his teammates. A three from Windsor cut the margin to 59-58.
Mercy padded their lead a bit on a Charlie Feldner three and a circus shot from Haynes, but Jackson Schultz cut it back down to 68-66 at the buzzer.
Collier Schultz and Labat traded threes and the teams traded the lead early in the fourth. Jackson Schultz pushed the War Eagles to a six point lead with a three point play and free throws off a technical foul. Hurst, Urshery, and Caruso hit threes and Haynes added a three-point play to keep the Bobcats close at 86-83.
Landmark kept up the pressure and stretched their advantage to 93-83 with less than two minutes to play. Caruso did his best to keep the Bobcats in the game, sinking two key free throws and two three-pointers to make it a 96-91 with 17 seconds left.
“Anthony hit some big shots and kept us right in it,” said Coach Caruso.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they would be docked with a questionable flagrant foul on the ensuing inbounds pass, and the War Eagles iced the game at the line.
Jackson Schultz led all scorers with 29 points. Zack Allen (19 points), Jack Patterson (14), and Collier Schultz (12) also hit double-digits for Landmark.
Our Lady of Mercy had six players in double-digits, led by 18 from Anthony Caruso. He was followed by Josh Hurst (15), Cedric Labat (13), and the trio of George Haynes, Aaron Urshery, and Chib Emefo with 12 each.
Landmark runs their record to a sterling 15-3 overall and 6-1 in the region. Our Lady of Mercy drops to 10-6 and 5-3 in the region.
Mercy’s Lady Bobcats played through a new lineup and shook off a strong Landmark squad for the win. Without the injured Leah Banks, Mercy was down to Deja Barthell as the lone senior. It didn’t faze the team.
“It’s an excellent win, especially considering we were shorthanded tonight,” said coach Doug Crane. “It was just a really good team win for us.”
Freshman sensation Morgan Jones led the way with 19 points. Her blend of size and athleticism was tough to contain.
“Morgan’s been playing so well for us,” said Crane. “She does a lot. She’s not only a scorer. I don’t think a lot of people realize how good a passer she is.”
It was a full team effort from the Bobcats.
“I can’t take anything away from Eboni (Winston), Deja, and Chi Chi (Ekwuocha). They all stepped up,” said Crane.
He was also quick to credit Anna Wilcynski, who stepped into the starting lineup and did a lot of the little things to help push her team to victory.
“Anna started for the first time tonight and did a great job in that role,” Crane said. “She drew a key charge and made a couple of big baskets.”
A gritty Landmark squad pushed Mercy all night. They were only able to pull away with a big fourth quarter.
“Defensively, I’m really proud of them. Their number 21 (Abby Johns) was shooting the ball well so we had to adjust,” said Crane. “I thought we played really good team basketball. I felt like it was going to be close all the way, but we were able to hit some threes down the stretch. That kind of separated us.”
The first quarter was a tight one as Ekwuocha got the scoring started for Mercy, but Landmark responded with buckets from Joy Stucker and Abby Johns. Mercy grabbed the lead back on jumpers from Morgan Jones and Eboni Winston, then Anna Wilcynski drew a key charge to preserve a 12-9 advantage after one quarter.
Lauren Colston’s three tied the game up for Landmark, and the momentum would swing back and forth during the second quarter. Jones heated up for Mercy, and a Wilcynski bucket put the Bobcats out in front with a cushion, but four free throws from Kyelin Knowles cut the margin to 26-20 at halftime.
The second half started strong for the Bobcats when Ekwuocha kicked it out to Barthell for a three. Landmark responded with a Diamond Smith jumper and five straight points from Leah Harrison as they sliced the deficit to 29-27. Winston hit a three for Mercy, but a Jordan Boyd bucket kept Landmark close. Jones capped off the quarter strong as the Bobcats pulled ahead 38-32.
Mercy surged ahead in the fourth quarter thanks to a 14-2 run. A Jade Nelson jumper broke the cold streak, but it wouldn’t be enough to catch the Bobcats.
Morgan Jones led all scorers with 19 points, followed by 12 from Chi Chi Ekwuocha and 10 from Eboni Winston. Leah Harrison led Landmark with nine points, followed by eight from Abby Johns.
Our Lady of Mercy runs their record to 10-6 overall and 2-4 in the region, while Landmark drops to 11-6 and 4-3 in the region.