PDT Sports Writer
LUCASVILLE — For a brief moment Wednesday night, No. 8 Clay was trying to channel its inner Hickory High against No. 1 Notre Dame.
But like the first two meetings this season, the Titans’ depth proved to be the difference as they posted a 64-44 Division IV Southeast Sectional Championship win at Valley High School. The win makes it back-to-back sectional championships for Notre Dame, the first in school history after being shut out since the last title in 1994.
“It the same situation as we were in last year,” Titans coach Matt Mader said. “A veteran ball club made of mostly juniors and seniors. We knew what we were up against, we did it last year, the kids knew it, we stayed focused and I think that we had a really good week of practice.”
Although the difference on the scoreboard was at 22 points, Notre Dame didn’t start to pull away until an 8-0 run in the early stages of the fourth turned the contest from a 48-40 game to a 56-40 affair.
“Notre Dame is a great basketball club, they’ve got shooters and they’ve got an inside game,” Panthers coach Adam Betten said. “I was just proud of my guys for stepping up and playing. I told them we had to play hard for 32 minutes tonight, we had to give it everything we have and no regrets.”
The Titans, who trailed early when Michael Schmidt started his game-high 25-point night with a field goal to give Clay a 4-2 lead, could not push their lead to double digits until Daniel Ogg split a pair of free throws to make it a 32-22 game early in the third. The advantage grew to a dozen the next trip down before the Panthers went on a 12-4 run to make it a 38-34 score.
“Give our kids some credit, they kept battling and we played 32 minutes,” Mader said.
Notre Dame was able to stop the bleeding in the fourth thanks to the early spurt. After Schmidt made his final basket of the game with 4:08 remaining, the Titans scored eight of the contest’s final 10 points.
Notre Dame forced 23 Clay turnovers on the night, 11 coming in the second half. The Titans also held Eldin Sarajlic to five points, all in the second half.
Seven Notre Dame players figured in the scoring column with three in double figures. J.P. Kayser led the Titans with 19 points while Kevin Lewis added 18 and Ogg finished with 14 and 14 rebounds.
Along with his game-high in points, Schmidt also had 14 rebounds. After being shut out in the tournament a year ago, Schmidt told his coach that he was on a mission.
“He stepped up and went after it,” Betten said. “I was just extremely proud of him, he stepped up and met the challenge.”
A trip to Ohio University’s Convocation Center is next for Notre Dame as No. 5 Reedsville Eastern stands in the Titans way.
For the Panthers, the careers of Tony Whitt, Jacob Crosier and Taylor LaValley come to a close. Betten was thankful for their services in his first year as the head coach.
“I can’t say enough about our senior leadership, it’s more than what people see,” Betten said.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or email@example.com.
Clay 7 15 16 11 — 44
Notre Dame 13 18 17 16 — 64
Clay—C.Phipps 2-2-8, Phillips 1-0-2, Sarajlic 2-0-5, Schmidt 10-5-25, Pelphrey 2-0-4, Totals 17-7-44.
Notre Dame—Lewis 8-0-18, D. Smith 1-0-2, Haney 1-0-2, JP Kayser 7-4-19, Cooper 1-2-5, Mader 2-0-4, Ogg 5-4-14, Totals 25-10-64.
3-Point Goals—Clay 3 (C. Phipps 2, Sarajlic); Notre Dame 4 (Lewis 2, JP Kayser, Cooper).
Records—Clay 5-19; Notre Dame 19-3.