By Matthew Snyder
Standout International guards Shayna Mehta and Natalie Kelly have been playing basketball together since they were in middle school and it showed on Saturday night
The pair combined for 45 points to lead the Jaguars to a 65-45 victory over Mercy in the Lick-Wilmerding Tournament championship game.
Kelly’s 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting – she hit five 3-pointers in the first half – earned her tournament MVP honors, but International head coach Charlene Murphy felt that Mehta, who finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals, deserved a piece of the prize.
“I’m going to say, it’s a co-MVP tonight,” Murphy said. “These two . . . when Shayna is struggling offensively, [Natalie] steps up offensively. When [Natalie is] doing all the scoring, Shayna is doing all the defense, or vice versa. I’m very proud of both of them and what they did.”
The two have developed a second sense for where the other is on the court at all times, an awareness that fits seamlessly into the Jaguars’ (8-0) offense, which is predicated upon pinpoint cross-court skip passes and quick ball movement.
“Usually the other team doesn’t know what Shayna is going to do, but I know how she’s going to play. I know where she’s going to pass it,” Kelly said.
Down 31-22 at the halftime break, Mercy (4-2) cut the International lead to 37-31 with just over 2 minutes to play in the third quarter. Senior guard Christina Haight helped key the run with six of her team-high 18 points in the third. She finished 8-of-20 from the field, but shot 3-of-5 during that quarter.
Mercy head coach Michael Gutierrez said he was proud of that third-quarter fight back, but he admitted that his team eventually ran out of gas against the Jaguars.
“[International is] just a better team right now than we are,” Gutierrez said. “[Kelly and Mehta] are awesome players. I think [Kelly] didn’t score when we did something different on defense, but everybody else played well, picked it up and did their job. They’ve got a very strong team and they deserved this win.”
By the time the buzzer sounded on that frenetic third quarter, Kelly had banged her knee into a wall, hurt her back on a hard drive to the hoop and went crashing into the wooden stands stacked up on the sideline as she raced after a loose ball.
“You do all you can do in 32 minutes, and then you have a rest,” Kelly said of her effort.
That hustle, combined with Mehta’s play and a nine-point fourth quarter from forward Danielle Palmer, helped the Jaguars stretch their lead to 62-38 and put a previously tense affair to bed.
“I think we played a solid game both offensively and defensively,” Murphy said. “It makes it a little easier when we’re hitting five [3-pointers] in the first half, from one person. Then also having tremendous defense from Shayna and fast-break points . . . it makes it easier to have [Mehta and Kelly out there].”
Both Haight and forward Nia Ilalio (12 points) earned first-team all-tournament honors for Mercy.
Natalie Kelly – 27
Shayna Mehta – 18
Danielle Palmer – 11
Emilia Omerberg – 4
Cienna Gray – 3
Christina Haight – 18
Nia Ilalio – 12
Gabby Jajeh – 8
Nelly Escobar – 4
Two players tied with 2 points