By Donald Daniels
The annual showdown between Mercy and the Institute of Notre Dame on the basketball court that is known as “The Game” took on a little different meaning this year.
With a small snowstorm hitting the greater Baltimore area cancelling all of the public and private high school basketball contests, the rivalry was literally the only game in town.
Not even frigid temperatures and steady snowfall could deter the 3,000 fans who showed up at Towson University's SECU Arena for the 53rd edition of event.
IND (7-11) led wire-to-wire and rolled to a 69-27 victory over the Mercy, extending its winning streak to six straight games in a series that the Magic still leads, 30-23.
Junior Eniya Russell took MVP honors for the Penguins after scoring a game-high 23 points while fellow junior Chanell Henson was named MVP for Mercy nine points.
Tsion Smith and Ajae Petty each scored in double figures scoring 11 and 13 points, respectively, for IND.
Even though things did not go Mercy’s way, legendary coach Mary Ella Marion was happy to be back to coach another storied chapter of the historic rivalry.
“It’s amazing and to be able to coach in this game,” Marion said. “The excitement, the hoopla, getting messages from former players and seeing players that you used to coach, it all comes rushing back. I am very grateful that I have been apart of this game for so long.”
For four-year IND starter La’Shayra Williams (5 points) the battle was "really about fun with my teammates one last time playing in this game. We talked about playing in this game a lot this week, but before the game started we knew we had to focus up, but still laughing and having a good time with each other. But this is my last year and everything is a little sad right now.”
“La’Shyra definitely wanted to go out with a bang, this makes four in a row for her, and she was really emotional about this game today,” IND coach Robert Dubose added.
From the opening seconds, IND came prepared to play.
The Penguins went on an 11-0 run before Mercy (3-10) could attempt a field goal while Russell and Petty lead the way by taking excellent shots from the perimeter and paint.
Promising freshman guard Taylor Gilmore (7 points) scored all five of the Magic points in the opening period as IND held a 21-5 advantage at the end the first quarter.
“I think the energy and the atmosphere of tonight really fueled us,” Russell said. “This was our best start of seaso, and it really showed tonight.”
The dominance continued in the second quarter with Penguins ripping off a 15-1 run with three-pointers from Russell, Smith and Madison Nimmo.
With .08 seconds left in the first half, Mercy senior Sarah Coffman drilled a jumper on the left side of the court to energize the Magic faithful with IND still holding a commanding 36-9 at the intermission.
Mercy found a little bit more rhythm in the third quarter with field goals from Henson and free throws from Coffman.
But just as Henson and Coffman found their stride, Russell found hers scoring seven points in the third quarter, pushing the Penguin margin to 37 points heading into the final period.
“I was trying to play smart, I wasn’t trying to put on a show, I was just trying to play well for my team,” Russell said.
Mercy senior Marissa Lesko scored two impressive buckets deep in the paint and Henson added a jumper from the foul line and two free throws to give Mercy fans something to cheer for late in the contest.
With the postseason right around corner, both Mercy and IND are looking to use the energy and the pageantry of “The Game” to push themselves in the right direction.
The Penguins, 4-7 in A Conference play, sit in the fifth spot while the Magic, 1-7 in the B, are currently the 11th seed.
“The way season is going, I just needed something to get a spark into us so that we can have a (good) stretch run in the A conference,” Dubose said.