"We knew what they were going to do on the final play, but there is that fine line there that you don't want to foul, either," Mercer coach Chris Souder said of Ball's drive. "We wanted to keep our defender between her and the basket, but when she got by us we didn't have anyone pick her up. (Ball) got the ball inside and got a nice shot at the basket."
The difference in the game came from the charity stripe where Wayne (23-7) cashed 13 of 14 attempts while Mercer (23-9) converted just nine of 16 tries.
"We missed seven free throws and four of those were on the front end of the bonus," Souder said. "I told the girls after the game that you have to do the little things when you get in a game of this caliber. Wayne did those things better than we did tonight and deserved the win. They did what they had to do to win the game."
Scotties had it going in third period
Mercer seemed to have everything going its way when it outscored Wayne 10-2 midway in the third period to lead 30-23 as Chelsea Goodman and Erin Ashford scored three points each while Jillian Horn and Courtney Watts added a basket apiece.
Wayne's leading scorer, junior Ashley Bell, also picked up her fourth foul with two minutes left in the quarter and had to sit out the rest of the frame. However, with Bell on the bench, the Cardinals outscored Mercer 10-5 and trailed only 35-33 entering the final quarter.
"We wanted to take the ball inside more with Bell out of the game, but Wayne is so physical and they kept us from getting the ball in the middle," Souder said. "When we did get in there, we missed a ton of easy shots. We missed a bunch of layups, and those are crucial. It came back to haunt of tonight."
The game was tied four times and the lead changed hands four times in the final stanza as neither team could pull away.
Chrystal Claunch's free throw and basket gave Mercer a 45-43 lead, but Bell maneuvered inside to tie the game at 45-45 with 1:02 to play. Mercer held the ball until Watts was fouled with 5.2 seconds to play, and she calmly sank both free throws for a 47-45 lead. That set the stage for Ball's drive to the basket that sent the game into overtime.
Watts scored from the baseline and Erica Lee tallied after a rebound to give Mercer a 51-49 advantage in the overtime, but Wayne hit four of five free throws to take the lead. Watts missed a shot with 13.5 seconds left and Lee missed a follow shot before Wayne's Latoyla Green rebounded. Wayne ran out the clock.
"We couldn't catch up with them to foul on the final play," Souder said. "At the rate they were shooting free throws, though, they would have hit both of them."
Despite the loss, Souder said his team had a great year.
"We went through some adversity and had some ups and downs, but these kids have a lot to be proud of," the Mercer coach said. "After you win (the region) you have a big target on your back and sometimes we didn't handle to pressure. But we are still young and we'll try to get back here next year."
MERCER (23-9) - Chrystal Claunch 3, Courtney Watts 14, Chelsea Goodman 11, Erica Lee 2, Jillian Horn 10, Erin Ashford 11.
WAYNE (23-7) - Kenita Ball 13, Courtney Duncan 3, Natalie Brown 4, Ashley Bell 18, Sarah Wixson 7, Latoyia Green 7.