“I think at times they were playing with seven (players),” Tackett joked.
Rowan County (22-9) battled back from a 24-11 halftime deficit to cut Mercy's lead to 30-24 with a minute remaining in the third quarter behind Tierra Hamilton's free-throw shooting.
However, on the next possession, Adri Neely tried unsuccessfully to push a pass inside to Natasha Kissinger under the basket.
While the turnover sparked another run by Mercy, the Lady Vikings again rallied.
Trailing 44-29 with 3:43 left, Rowan County outscored Mercy 10-2 in the next two minutes. Mercy had to sink free throws to hold off the Lady Vikings, and it did so by draining 18 of 21 total attempts, including 11 made free throws by Ellen Sholtes. Sholtes finished with a game-high 22 points.
Mercy (26-8) held Kissinger (18 ppg) scoreless, to which Mercy coach Mark Evans credited Therese Montano and again, the 1-2-2 pressure.
“It was not anything spectacular we did to (Kissinger),” Evans said. “She was covered well man-to-man by (Montano), but a lot of that was just us keeping them off-balanced. We just try to take people out of their comfort level.”
Neely and Hamilton were selected as Rowan County's representatives on the All-Tournament team. Neely scored 17 points and had seven rebounds against Mercy. Hamilton, a junior coming off a 13-point performance in the quarterfinal win over Clay County, notched 15 points Saturday.
Tackett admitted his team's fate was painful to take, but called his bunch “the most coachable group” he's ever seen or had.
“They've left a legacy,” said Tackett, who has taken Rowan County to the state tournament in each of his first three years as head coach.
“I thanked them in the locker room because I didn't bring them here,” he paused. “They brought me.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.