MERCERVILLE — Now that was worth the winding, and quite the tricky curvy, mid-December dark night’s drive.
That’s because, once the Notre Dame Lady Titans got to the heart of Gallia County at South Gallia High School, it was a seemingly straightaway parade to the free-throw line.
As the undefeated Lady Titans traveled, took 40 foul-shot attempts and meshed three-fourths of them, they slowed down the host Lady Rebels’ preferred track-meet style of basketball —and rallied from an eight-point second-quarter deficit to seize control, ultimately winning by a 64-53 count on a waterlogged Wednesday night in “MercerVegas”.
But, not only did Wednesday’s win keep the Lady Titans perfect at 7-0, it was easily their most important triumph of the young season so far.
The senior-less but quality Lady Rebels were also 6-0 entering that contest, and the two teams could very well see each other once again —deep in the Division IV postseason tournament.
For now, though, Notre Dame will enjoy its third victory over South Gallia in one full year’s time —as the Lady Titans won two days before New Year’s Day of last season, then captured an overtime win in the Division IV district semifinals.
This one featured —truth be told — a darkened and dicey December drive along two-lane country roads from Portsmouth, and often times no cell phone service in between.
However, the only dialing up Notre Dame did on Wednesday was executing its gameplan —getting the Lady Rebels to play half-court defense, slowing the game down to sometimes a four-corners crawl, and shooting 40 free throws and making 30.
“I knew going into this game it would show what we needed to work on and get better at, and that it would be a dogfight. South Gallia is really good. But tonight we did enough good things to rally back and sustain that lead and pull through,” said veteran NDHS head coach J.D. McKenzie. “If we played South Gallia 10 times, I don’t know what it (final 10-game total) would be.”
Both clubs actually only made two three-point goals, and South Gallia held a 15-14 advantage in two-point makes.
But the Lady Titans attacked the chasing Lady Rebels in the half-court sets, set up by their blends of defenses and subsequent stops —and made three more charity tosses (30) than what South Gallia even attempted (27).
The Lady Rebels converted 17 tries, as Morgan Lyons —the standout Symmes Valley transfer — landed a perfect 7-of-7, along with 10 total field goals en route to a game-high 28 points.
However, it was Notre Dame storming back from a 22-14 second-stanza deficit — outscoring the Lady Rebels 50-31 over the final 22 minutes and 10 seconds.
“From watching them on film, they are very handsy defensively. I thought we could force them into foul trouble if we were strong with the basketball. When we took care of the basketball, and we were going half court to half court, we stretched out that lead. When we turned it over and they played to their pace, they took that lead in the first half and cut into our lead in the second half. But this worked out about the way I thought it could,” said McKenzie. “We made enough stops and had enough half-court sets and we made our free throws.”
Yes, that’s right —easily a Santa’s sleigh full of free throws in this Christmas season.
Notre Dame sank 15-of-17 in the opening half —including 6-of-6 by Ella Kirby, 4-of-6 by Annie Dettwiller, 2-of-2 apiece by Gracie Ashley and Annabelle Ball, and an old-fashioned three-point play by Bree Hicks, which made it 25-21 with four minutes and 11 seconds left to play in the second quarter.
That three-point play really got Notre Dame’s ball rolling —and the junior point guard Ball better distributing the rock.
Kirby canned a three-pointer to get the Lady Titans to within 25-24, then free throws from Dettwiller put ND back in front —after they did lead 10-5 only 4:50 in.
Dettwiller then made a midcourt steal on the next possession, and scored an easy layup to cap a run of 10 unanswered points.
There were only three ties —at 10-10, 12-12, and finally 28-28 with 2:07 to play in the first half.
From there, though, the Lady Titans stymied the Lady Rebels to only 25 more points —as South Gallia did shoot 39-percent (17-of-44), but only made two of 13 trey tries (15-percent) and committed 18 turnovers.
The Lady Titans made a dozen steals, including five by the defensive-minded Dettwiller — with her six deflections.
No other Lady Rebel reached double figures besides Lyons — as Emma Clary (two field goals and 4-of-9 FT) added eight and Tori Triplett (two field goals and 3-of-5 FT) scored seven.
“I thought we did a good job of limiting their outside shooting. They were averaging around shooting 20 threes a game,” said McKenzie. “Even though it wasn’t our best night because they (Lady Rebels) are a tough matchup for us with four guards and we are basically playing three bigs, I still think defense won the game for us.”
Dettwiller’s double-double of 15 points, on three first-half buckets and 9-of-12 free throws, also added in 11 rebounds.
Kirby and Ball both had three thefts, as Kirby deflected four passes and Ashley another five.
McKenzie mentioned that momentum, and second-period defensive, switch.
“We switched defenses there, and it was a matter of getting stops,” he said. “Then we wanted to make them play defense for long stretches. When we did that, we either scored or got to the foul line. We got them moving defensively. We said if we could make them play defense for 30, 40 or 50 seconds, then that works out in our favor. Good things happened when we did that.”
Such as getting to the free-throw line with the Lady Rebels playing into foul trouble —and scoring high-percentage shots or off offensive rebounds.
Notre Dame held a pair of five-point advantages after cantos two (34-29) and three (44-39), but led by as much as 10 in the third (44-34) — before ballooning the lead to 12 thrice in the fourth (53-41, 55-43 and 63-51).
The 64-53 final was reached with under a minute to go, as the Lady Rebels’ smallest second-half deficit stood at four twice (34-30 and 36-32).
The Lady Titans’ tally of third-quarter free tosses included two by Dettwiller —and splits by Kirby and Ashley.
In the fourth, Ball was 3-of-6 and Dettwiller 3-of-4, followed by Ashley and Katie Strickland 2-of-2 —and Kirby 1-of-3.
Kirby converted 8-of-11 towards a team-high 17 points, followed by Dettwiller’s 15 and Strickland’s 10 —which featured four field goals.
Notre Dame did shoot an even 50-percent from the field (16-of-32), including 52-percent (14-of-27) from inside the arc —as it only attempted five trifectas.
Kamryn Bradford bagged the other Titan triple with six minutes remaining —a winged three-ball that made it 51-41.
Ashley netted nine points and Ball bucketed seven, each making five free throws.
Indeed, it was a Lady Titans’ Christmas parade of foul shots — which made the darkened dicey December drive all worth it.
“It’s a long trip and a hostile environment. But I am proud of the girls tonight and their effort and mental toughness,” said McKenzie. “We’re going to have some more tests and that’s what we want, but this was a great test for us. If it wasn’t so far away (from Portsmouth), I would play them every night if we could.”
* * *
Notre Dame 12 22 10 20—64
South Gallia 15 14 10 14 —53
NOTRE DAME 64 (7-0)
Bree Hicks 1 1-1 3, Ella Kirby 4 8-11 17, Kamryn Bradford 1 0-0 3, Annie Dettwiller 3 9-12 15, Annabelle Ball 1 5-8 7, Gracie Ashley 2 5-6 9, Katie Strickland 4 2-2 10; TOTALS 16 30-40 64; Three-point field goals: 2 (Ella Kirby and Kamryn Bradford 1 apiece)
SOUTH GALLIA 53 (6-1)
Morgan Lyons 10 7-7 28, Lindsey Wells 1 0-0 2, Tori Triplett 2 3-5 7, Macie Sanders 1 0-0 3, Madison Summers 1 3-6 5, Gracyn Null 0 0-0 0, Emma Clary 2 4-9 8, Molly McWhorter 0 0-0 0, Sharla Hammond 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 17 17-27 53; Three-point field goals: 2 (Morgan Lyons and Macie Sanders 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved