Lady Titans topple Irish


PORTSMOUTH — Although far from mastery in three-point shooting, or even at the free-throw line, the Notre Dame Lady Titans toughened up —and tightened up —defensively against visiting Fisher Catholic.

Thank God, or Amen to that, if you are veteran Notre Dame head coach J.D. McKenzie —or a Lady Titan basketball fan.

That’s because, from Friday night’s non-league encounter as both private schools are Ohio High School Athletic Association members, the Lady Titans exacted a measure of revenge from last season —but more importantly remained undefeated for this year.

As in 2022 ringing into 2023 —for Notre Dame defeated Fisher Catholic 59-43, and raised its unblemished record to 11-0.

Last year, the Lady Irish amounted many a three-point goal against the Lady Titans —en route to winning 45-39 up in Lancaster.

In Friday’s return tilt, high atop on Sunrise Avenue, the Lady Irish (7-3) continued to fire away from three-point territory —22 tries in fact, and sinking five in the opening quarter.

After that 17-point first period, though, it was all about Notre Dame’s defense —and only allowing two Lady Irish three-point makes the remainder of the way.

Trailing 17-10, the Lady Titans reversed course —and locked down Fisher Catholic for the final three cantos, winning them by a combined 49-26.

That’s correct — only two more Lady Irish trifectas from there, and both bookended the fourth quarter, including an immaterial make by Ellie Bruce, with only 37 seconds left for Fisher Catholic’s final points.

Per McKenzie, he was unhappy offensively with how his Lady Titans performed —and especially meshed just half (12) of their 23 free-throw attempts.

But he has always prided his charges on playing defense, boxing out and rebounding missed shots —and always being ready to run through those passing lanes.

That saved Notre Dame’s day on Friday night in prime time.

McKenzie mentioned the defensive strategy start —and subsequent change from the second quarter onward.

“We were worried about their size inside with the two six-foot-two girls (6-2 senior Averie Bruce and 6-2 junior Ellie Bruce), so we decided to go 2-3 on our makes and man-to-man on our misses early on. But we were slow to get out on shooters and they hit five first-quarter threes. So we made a switch, went back to man, mixed in a little 1-3-1 there at the end of the half, and I thought that got us going,” said the NDHS coach. “To go from down 10 early to being up two at the half…we thought defensively after we made some adjustments, it wasn’t bad.”

In fact, it was very good for the Lady Titans.

They trailed 17-7, but junior Gracie Ashley ended the first frame from the top-of-the-key — with a buzzer-beating three-pointer of her own.

In the second quarter, baskets by Ashley, fellow junior Katie Strickland and senior Annie Dettwiller got the Lady Titans to within 17-16, as Ellie Bruce split a pair of free throws at the 4:46 mark —and Averie Bruce buried a field goal to make it 20-16 with three first-half minutes left.

However, unfortunately for Fisher Catholic, it didn’t score again until the third period was 35 seconds in.

Two more makes by Strickland, and another Ashley counter, put the Lady Titans ahead 22-20 at halftime —and for the fourth and final lead change of the game.

Apparently, all Notre Dame had to do was surge ahead.

Similar to an early eight-point deficit at South Gallia (Dec. 14), the Lady Titans turned up the volume, turned up the defense, and ultimately ran away for that win — which was the Lady Rebels’ only loss so far.

Fisher Catholic committed 20 turnovers, of which Notre Dame stole 14 possessions —with 11 deflections.

Dettwiller with six and Ella Kirby with five were the steals leaders, while Ashley’s deflections were a half-dozen.

Notre Dame overcame its long-range woes by stymieing the Irish into 7-of-22 from distance —and only 4-of-10 from the charity stripe.

“Offensively, we missed layups, and you’re not going to see Ella (Kirby) go 2-of-12 shooting threes. We had great looks, but things weren’t falling. That leads to transition baskets for them and us not being able to change defenses. But once we got established and calmed down…that’s the thing about this group of girls for whatever reason. Getting down double digits doesn’t seem to faze them. I’ve had groups getting down 10 or more points, they fold like a deck of cards. But these girls just make adjustments and more adjustments,” said McKenzie. “Before you know it, they are winning and pulling away. Offensively, we just weren’t very sharp tonight. But I couldn’t be any more proud of their resiliency.”

McKenzie mentioned the junior sharpshooter Kirby, who had two first-quarter field goals —but missed ALL of her first-half three-point tries.

She tallied 10 in the third period —two treys and two deuces —as Dettwiller delivered three twos and 2-of-2 free throws in that frame.

Notre Dame dialed up a 38-28 advantage after a Kirby winged three, as her first had boosted the Lady Titans’ lead to 27-22.

The smallest Lady Irish deficit of the entire second half was at 24-22, as its only other triple following the first quarter —and before Bruce bagged her aforementioned final three to give her a team-high 17 points —was with 40 seconds gone by in the fourth.

That got Fisher Catholic to within 42-37, but another Strickland stickback, threes by Dettwiller and Annabelle Ball, and free throws from Dettwiller (4-of-6 in fourth), Strickland (2-of-4) and Ball (3-of-5) all encompassed a 17-6 spree to end the game.

Notre Dame’s largest margin stood at 56-38 — with only 86 seconds remaining.

Dettwiller paced all scorers with a game-high 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting and 6-of-8 freebies, as Kirby chipped in 14 —despite a personal 33-percent (6-of-18) shooting night.

Ashley added 11 markers, Strickland notched nine and Ball bucketed six —as Notre Dame’s rotation was only seven deep.

When Notre Dame did score, it effectively attacked the Fisher Catholic zone —and got points inside the paint area or even off offensive rebounds.

Dettwiller’s double-double did include 11 rebounds for a game-high, as Strickland secured seven and Ashley another five.

“Early on, we would make one or two passes and shoot a three or a mid-range jumper. During our first break, I stressed to the girls to get some reversals, let’s move the ball inside-out, let’s try to get the ball in the short corner and the high post. Once we did that, we got good looks and we had some offensive sets which looked beautiful, but then we went brain dead again with one pass and shoot,” said McKenzie. “We didn’t turn it over a whole bunch, but with some decision-making, we were our own worst enemy tonight.”

At least offensively, as Notre Dame’s defense did save its undefeated day —or rather Friday night in prime time.

And, against a good Fisher Catholic club.

Both Bruces boarded seven rebounds apiece, as junior Voni Bethel bucketed three threes and 3-of-5 second-half foul shots towards a dozen points.

Ava Albert added eight first-quarter points, including the Irish’s other two treys.

“It shows us once again what we need to work on. We blew this game up there last year with them (Lady Irish). This is a good look for us with their two 6-2 bigs and they shoot it very well from the outside and have good guard play,” said McKenzie, of Fisher Catholic. “It’s a good test for us coming off Christmas break, and I thought we responded well. If we make our free throws and make shots like we normally do, it’s probably a 30-point win that just wasn’t. But these are the types of tests we want. I don’t care about us going undefeated and things like that. We want to prepare to play teams that we would see from the district tournament level on.”

The Lady Titans returned to action on Thursday at Symmes Valley —beginning the back half of Southern Ohio Conference Division I double round-robin play, of which they lead the league at 8-0, and with an astounding 112 consecutive conference victories.

With a late schedule change to Saturday’s annual Tri-State Hoops Throwdown at Fairland High School, the Lady Titans tangle with another good opponent on Saturday night —Division III and eight-win Rock Hill.

Tipoff time is tentatively set for 7 p.m.

* * *

Fisher Catholic 17 3 14 9—43

Notre Dame 10 12 18 19— 59


Voni Bethel 3 3-5 12, Vanessa Funk 0 0-0 0, Jayda Dixon 1 0-2 2, Ava Albert 3 0-0 8, Sydney Ellis 0 0-1 0, Ellie Bruce 7 1-2 17, Emma McCrady 0 0-0 0, Averie Bruce 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 16 4-10 43; Three-point field goals: 7 (Voni Bethel 3, Ava Albert and Ellie Bruce 2 apiece)

NOTRE DAME 59 (11-0)

Ella Kirby 6 0-2 14, Kamryn Bradford 0 0-0 0, Annie Dettwiller 6 6-8 19, Bree Hicks 0 0-0 0, Annabelle Ball 1 3-5 6, Gracie Ashley 4 2-4 11, Katie Strickland 4 1-4 9; TOTALS 21 12-23 59; Three-point field goals: 5 (Ella Kirby 2, Annie Dettwiller, Annabelle Ball and Gracie Ashley 1 apiece)

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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