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Mentor vs. Louisville girls basketball: Cardinals hit halftime reset button, defeat Louisville in district semifinal

Feb. 27—Mentor girls basketball coach James Hrusovsky is getting good halftime use out of what he calls "the reset button."

Playing in the program's first district tournament since the 2019-20 season, Mentor trailed at halftime against Louisville in a semifinal game against Louisville on Feb. 27 — just like the Cardinals did in last week's sectional final win over Green.

Again "hitting the reset button" at halftime, the Cardinals emerged with newfound energy and posted a 49-44 win over Louisville. The win puts Mentor (16-9) in a March 2 district championship game against Magnificat, again "hitting the reset button" on the program's record books as it is Mentor's first appearance in a district championship game since 2016-17 season when Euclid topped the Cardinals, 59-56, for a district title.

"We're so pumped," senior Mallory Chicone said. "We're not going to waste this chance. We're going to be ready to play."

Mallory Chicone of @MentorLadybball comes in for the rebound and putback, Mentor trails 33-31 with 1:56 in the third pic.twitter.com/Diar8Hrdes

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 28, 2024

Echoed junior Sophia Stouffer, "We're so excited. It's been a long time since we've done this."

Stouffer (10 points) played a monumental role in making sure the Cardinals were advancing to the title game. When she hit a 3-pointer to start the third quarter, that gave Mentor a 35-33 lead — their first lead since the first quarter.

She didn't stop there. The next time down the court she drilled another 3-ball. And the next time down the court when she eyed another 3-bomb, she pump-faked a defender and drove around her for a soft mid-range floater for a 42-36 lead.

Mentor never trailed again.

Sophia Stouffer J gives @MentorLadybball 42-36 lead mid fourth pic.twitter.com/00aNrptplA

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 28, 2024

"I think it's just reading the defense," she said. "My team got me the ball. I was able to have a great night because of them."

Sophia Stouffer and Mallory Chicone discuss @MentorLadybball win over Louisville tonight. pic.twitter.com/DEi9QEgFof

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 28, 2024

Tried as they might, Mentor wasn't able to put Louisville in the rearview mirror. Chicone drove in for a basket for a 46-42 advantage but Louisville responded on a Courtney Berwick floater with 1:36 left.

Forced to foul, Louisville sent Mentor to the line with 1:07 remaining. The Cardinals missed both free throws, but Chicone got the rebound and dished to Nina Rodriguez, who made a free throw for a 47-44 lead.

Nina Rodriguez with back to back hoops for @MentorLadybball to cut Louisville lead to31-27 with3:57 in the third. pic.twitter.com/H0blYWXvr9

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 28, 2024

"She got that huge rebound on the missed free throw, which a lot of people won't remember," Hrusovsky said. "But that was huge for us. It got us two more free throws. She did what we needed her to do."

Louisville had multiple shots on two different possessions, but couldn't cash in down the stretch. Chicone and Rodriguez each made one free throw to keep the Leopards at a safe distance.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Cardinals stormed the court in euphoria.

Rodriguez led Mentor with 14, while Louisville's Brooke Haren had 15, but was held scoreless in the second half with Chicone guarding her.

"I know I was a a disadvantage when it came to size," Chicone said. "As long as you get low and box out... I gave her some space because I know she likes to drive. (Scouting) definitely helped."

Loud cheers came from the Mentor locker room before they emerged for the ride back to Mentor, fully looking forward to the return trip on March 1 to Valley Forge to face Magnificat for the district crown.

"Honestly, this is amazing," Chicone said. "This is what we wanted, to win this game. We worked hard for this."

Coach James hrusovsky of @MentorLadybball says his team has been battle-tested all year, and now they're headed to the district final. pic.twitter.com/TM0jZprlkA

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 28, 2024

Playing in the rugged Greater Cleveland Conference was tough on the Mentor squad. But Hrusovsky said he repeatedly reminded his team over the past two years that the challenging schedule would pay dividends. He got his proof last week against Green and Feb. 27 against Louisville.

"We keep telling the girls that, listen, our schedule is tough. But it's going to prepare you for the tournament," he said. "You hate talking about the tournament in November and December, but on the side you tell them, 'This is going to help us.' They have to trust you when you way that and tonight they did."

THE SCORE (FEB. 27)

Mentor 49, Louisville 44