STERLING – Riverdale didn't need a miracle to pull out a road win against Newman on Monday night.
It had a Mericle.
Senior guard Sydney Mericle stuffed the stat sheet with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists, as the Rams held on for a 57-53 decision over the Comets. It was the second nail-biting affair between the squads, as Newman nabbed a 50-48 overtime win on Dec. 2.
Mericle, who averages 18 points per game, was at her best when it mattered the most. She hit all six of her fourth-quarter free throws, including two with 6.5 seconds remaining to all but seal the deal.
Mericle's lone 3-pointer of the game was also a big one, as it gave her team a 41-36 lead with a little more than 6 minutes to play.
"I work on my free throws a lot, so I can hit them when we need them," Mericle said. "The big thing was we worked the ball into the paint, so we could either get a basket or get fouled. It worked for us tonight."
Mericle's heroics were barely enough to fend off the pesky Comets, who had their own hero in senior forward Kayci Howell. She finished with 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and added nine rebounds.
Howell was coming off a game on Saturday in which she was 0-for-8 from the field against Morrison.
"I wanted to redeem myself a little bit," said Howell, who averages just four points per game. "I don't know – I warmed up really bad tonight. I couldn't make anything in warmups, and then I came out and shot good."
Newman (5-12, 4-4 Three Rivers North) led 25-24 at halftime, but that lead evaporated quickly. Riverdale (12-8, 5-2) opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run to go up by six at 35-29, and the Rams found themselves up seven (53-46) with 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter after Mericle converted a pair of free throws.
The Comets, however, didn't quit. A 3-point play by Howell sliced the deficit to 53-49 with 40.3 seconds remaining. A fast-break basket by Riverdale's Emily Baldwin was negated by a pair of free throws from Newman's Julie Hurd with 18.5 seconds left on the clock.
The Comets then pressed, and when Hurd stripped Mericle of the ball and fed Howell for a layup, it was 55-53 with 9.5 seconds left to play.
On its ensuing possession, Riverdale inbounded the ball to Mericle, who was fouled. She made two free throws to up the margin to four points, and a last-second three from Newman was off the mark to finish the game.
Mericle was backed by backcourt mate Lauren Claus, who dropped in 14 points and grabbed four rebounds. Megan Groves added six points and six boards.
The Rams were 16-for-20 from the free-throw line, with Mericle (13-for-16) accounting for most of those.
"I've told them and told them and told them free throws are going to win ballgames for you," Riverdale coach Mick Kopriva said. "It's happened quite a bit this year, though it's gone both ways. Any close game, it's going to come down to free throws. We made them tonight."
Hurd finished with 11 points for Newman, and Mary Alice Oswalt added eight.
The Comets battled to a 26-26 stalemate in rebounding, committed just two more turnovers (15 to 13) than the Rams, and had assists on 16 of their 18 baskets. It left coach Jay Howell pleased with his team's play, though not the outcome.
"We were ahead the whole game Saturday night at Morrison, and didn't react well once they jumped ahead," coach Howell said. "Tonight, we stuck with it, and I thought we had a good chance."
Star of the game: Sydney Mericle, Riverdale, 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists
Key performers: Kayci Howell, Newman, 22 points, 9 rebounds; Julie Hurd, Newman, 11 points
Up next: Prophetstown at Newman, 7:30 Friday