It was a battle of unbeaten rivals Tuesday night at Mercy High School when Mercy and Marian got together for the first time this season.
Mercy outscored the Mustangs, 16-6, in the final quarter to pull out a 46-34 victory. Mercy's win breaks a four-game losing streak against Marian, dating back to the 2017 season.
The Marlins improve to 7-0, while the Mustangs fall to 5-1.
Ahead of the game, Mercy coach Gary Morris had a simple message written on the board in the locker room: It's time.
"We feel like we've been playing really well and we're going to go after them and see what happens," Morris said. "It makes it more of a rivalry when we win a game, because if one side is winning all the time, it's not really a rivalry."
Kenney carries Marlins in first half
The first three quarters of the game were tight, but the Marlins maintained a small lead for nearly the entire game. Much of that was thanks to a breakout performance by junior Maddie Kenney, who scored 17 points — most of which came in the first half.
She pounded Marian inside and was all over the court on defense making plays.
"Maddie was huge for us in that first half," Morris said. "She pretty much carried us offensively, but not just offensively. She made a lot of big plays defensively for us. She's an energizer bunny and has that extra gear. She was really good at both ends."
Her energy is contagious and has provided a big lift to this year's team.
"She brings the most outstanding energy I've ever seen," Mercy junior captain Julia Bishop said. "She's an amazing athlete who can run the floor and never get tired, she's incredible. ... She's not afraid to make contact and she's not afraid to do what it takes to win. She knows when to pass, when to shoot, she's the most unselfish player I've ever seen."
Free throws galore
Bishop herself had quite a game, scoring a game-high 19 points.
It was just the high point total that stood out though, it was the fact that she was 16-for-18 on free throws. She's always been a good free-throw shooter, but has never shot as many as she did Tuesday night.
"She's sick and been battling a cold and I told her sometimes you get the sweat going and into the flow of the game and the adrenaline takes over," Morris said. "She's a great foul shooter."
Mercy held a 22-19 lead at halftime before starting the third on a 6-0 run. Marian answered, however, and only trailed by two after three quarters. The Marlins stepped up their game defensively in the fourth and got a boost on offense by a three-pointer by Bishop — Mercy's only three of the game — and capitalized on entering the double bonus early. Marian committed 24 fouls total in the game compared to Mercy's 13. Bishop said making the triple was a huge boost to her confidence and was a turning point in the game, marking the moment Mercy truly began to pull away.
"I think we locked down defensively," Morris said. "I thought we really defended well in the fourth and hit some shots. Then we got into the double bonus and I think that kind of relaxes you a bit knowing you get two."
Back on the map
This season, Morris wanted to get Mercy basketball back on the map after a rough last two years.
With a perfect record and a rivalry win under their belt, the Marlins are certainly getting there, if they aren't already.
"It's amazing," Bishop said. "I've been here three years and had yet to beat them in basketball. We've lost to them by 20, lost to them by 30. Being able to be on the right side of that by 12 feels great."
Now the team can put a Catholic League title in its sights. Morris said the key to success will be to continue to play strong defense and limit turnovers.
"I'm really proud of our kids, we showed a lot of fight," Morris said. "We weren't happy at the half with all the turnovers, I thought both teams came out really nervous, it was a turnover-fest early on. We took better care of the basketball in the second half which was big."
Marian only had one scorer reach double-figures with junior Shannon Kennedy tallying 10 points. Sophomore Sarah Sylvester had eight. No other Mustang collected more than five points.
"I think with our energy level and defense, we really shut them down in the fourth and that's always huge playing such a strong team," Bishop said. "Kudos to them, they played a hard-fought game. It came down to our defense, defense wins games."