PORTSMOUTH — Notre Dame didn’t have its “Ball” point pen on Wednesday night.
And, unfortunately against Ashland, the Lady Titans ran out of proverbial ink in a struggle for a second half.
As a result, Notre Dame’s highly-touted Lady Titans are no longer undefeated —as the Kittens crossed the mighty Ohio River, drove high atop to Sunrise Avenue in Portsmouth, and erased a 32-19 halftime deficit by dominating the second 16 minutes by 20 points (39-19).
Yes, that was the Lady Titans’ largest advantage, but became a distant memory by game’s end —as Ashland amassed a 58-51 non-league victory, and became the first club in the 2022-23 season to top Notre Dame.
The Lady Titans, which opened in fifth and dropped to sixth in the first pair of Associated Press Ohio High School Girls Basketball Division IV statewide polls, slipped to 15-1 —while the Kittens climbed to 13-4.
Do keep in mind that Kentucky’s Ashland is an Ohio equivalent to Division II —as the Titans are forecast by some observers to possibly capture the Division IV Region 15 championship this year.
NDHS veteran head coach J.D. McKenzie has emphasized it’s not about going undefeated for his Lady Titans, but that playing quality competition in the non-league schedule prepares them for the rigors of the Division IV postseason tournament.
He restated it again after Wednesday night’s loss, one which Notre Dame did play without junior point guard Annabelle Ball.
“I’m not glad that we lost, but I am glad that we had this game,” said McKenzie. “Ashland is a really good. We want to be tested, so that’s why they are on our schedule. They applied pressure all night long like you’re going to see deep in the tournament. It gives us a lot to work on. Wish we had Annabelle here tonight, but we didn’t. It’s still a game we can learn from going forward, use as a springboard to get better, and hopefully get the girls’ attention. In the grand scheme of things, this game didn’t mean a whole lot other than just getting us ready for the tournament. Of course we would like to win it and I hate losing, but all this game does is help us. Proud of the girls, they played their guts out. A couple of things didn’t go our way here and there, and that happens in basketball.”
Ball, the first off the bench but the team’s primary on-floor ball-handler, missed the contest due to mandatory attendance involving a school function for ND.
“You hate to make any excuse, but what Annabelle does for us coming off the bench, it allows us to do different things with Annie (Dettwiller) and allows to still have somebody who can handle the ball,” said McKenzie. “I would have loved to have been able to put Annie inside the zone and rotate our bigs a little bit more.”
Still, for the first half at least, no Ball no problem —as fellow junior Katie Strickland scored inside on three first-quarter field goals, part of her four for the entire game and eight points.
There were three first-quarter ties, and Ashland didn’t initially lead until 26 seconds remained in the opening canto.
Of the Lady Titans’ nine points at the first stop, besides Strickland, junior Gracie Ashley split a pair of free throws — and Ella Kirby converted a two-point goal.
Ashley in particular was just getting warmed up —as she scored six second-stanza field goals and added a freebie, jump-starting a career-high 24-point performance on an 11-of-14 shooting night.
She also added a double-double dozen rebounds, as the Lady Titans shot an even 50-percent from the field —on 23-of-46.
Notre Dame did offset a 2-of-14 three-point showing by going 21-of-32 for a sizzling 66-percent inside the arc —often scoring on rebound putbacks or dribble-drive baskets in the lane.
The Lady Titans tallied 14 assists, including six by Annie Dettwiller and four from Kamryn Bradford.
The six-foot senior Dettwiller was pressed into Ball’s ball-handling duties, as the Titans blitzkrieged the Kittens 23-8 for the second quarter —taking the 16-15 lead at the 5:37 juncture, and extending it to 32-19.
Kirby, with two twos and another three-pointer, contributed nine points —as Dettwiller, playing point guard as well with Ball being out, added a bucket and a foul shot.
McKenzie commented on a solid first-half outing —or at least the second quarter, anyways.
“They were going man-to-man in the first quarter and I think we had 11 turnovers. But we played really clean that second quarter with one turnover, and went up 13 at the half,” said the coach.
However, Kirby unfortunately couldn’t find the range on Wednesday night —shooting 4-of-14, including only 1-of-9 from three-point territory.
The Titans did leave points on the court by missing some shots —combined with 20 turnovers.
The Kittens converted to a 1-2-2 zone late in the second quarter, carried it over into the third frame, and Ashland’s offense indeed picked up business.
“If Ella makes maybe a couple more (three-pointers), it’s a different game. Maybe we make a couple more shots, they come out in the second half and go back to man, where we can do different things and we exploit our size a little bit better. But their zone was really good, they are active and super quick,” said McKenzie. “We just didn’t knock down enough outside shots to open some things up. Then it wore on Annie to have to handle the ball, and guard their best player Woods who is super fast. We played our butts off, but we ran out of gas late, missed some shots we normally make, and we didn’t get to the free-throw line in the second half.”
Whereas the Kittens did all those things, and more importantly reversed course.
Notre Dame’s largest second-half lead was 10 (32-22 and 34-24) twice, as Arianna Gulley (two) and Jaidyn Gulley (one) combined for three third-period threes.
The Lady Titans’ third-quarter leads ranged from four points to 10, and eventually by one point to five throughout the fourth until the 1:35 mark.
That’s when Ashland sophomore Kenleigh Woods first scored on a drive to make it 51-50, then gave the Kittens the lead back —and for good —on her second of two trifectas just 22 tics later.
Bradford scored her third and final field goal for her seventh point which made it 51-48 only a minute earlier (2:13 to play), but the Lady Titans didn’t score again —as Ashland made final 55-second free throws, once Notre Dame did foul it for the bonus situation.
Ella Sellars, who made two second-half baskets and all eight of her free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter towards 12 points, sank 4-of-4 in a 15-second span to make it 56-51.
The Titans twice turned it over in a 15-second span of their own, and Jaidyn Gulley gave the Kittens their largest lead at 57-51 — with only eight seconds left and on a split of tosses.
Sellars and Gulley both scored a dozen for the Kentuckians, while Woods —with seven total field goals and 4-of-5 free throws —led the Kittens with 20 points.
“Woods just killed us with penetration. She is really good and super fast. Reminds me a lot of (former South Webster three-sport star) Bri Claxon. Just so fast and we don’t have anybody who can match up with that speed,” said McKenzie. “And we were late getting to her a lot of times.”
Her eight second-period points kept the Kittens within reasonable striking distance, then Arianna Gulley getting eight third-quarter points was a bonus.
So too were first-quarter baskets by Jenna Delaney (two) and Gabby Karle (one), as Ashland shot an even 38-percent (19-of-50) —including 14-of-30 (47-percent) from inside the arc and 5-of-20 (25-percent) from outside of it.
In part without Ball, but more so running out of proverbial ink, the Lady Titans’ trend of rallying from double-digit deficits was bucked on Wednesday night.
Although, as McKenzie said, every single basketball game is not meant to be won.
“I’ve said with this group all along that they never give up. We were down double digits to both South Gallia and Fisher Catholic, and came back and won those games by double digits. It just went the opposite way tonight, and we couldn’t extend that halftime lead. We couldn’t get enough back-to-back stops, and we had good looks offensively, but we missed some bunnies and wide-open threes,” he said. “Sometimes that happens and you just don’t shoot the ball very well and you don’t win every game.”
* * *
Ashland 11 8 19 20 —58
Notre Dame 9 23 11 8— 51
ASHLAND 58 (13-4)
Ella Sellars 2 8-8 12, Jaidyn Gulley 4 3-5 12, Kenleigh Woods 7 4-5 20, Arianna Gulley 3 0-0 8, Gabby Karle 1 0-0 2, Jenna Delaney 2 0-0 4, Emme Rogers 0 0-0 0, Brooklyn Duckwyler 0 0-0 0, Alexis Troxler 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 19 15-18 58; Three-point field goals: 5 (Arianna Gulley and Kenleigh Woods 2 apiece, Jaidyn Gulley 1)
NOTRE DAME 51 (15-1)
Ella Kirby 4 0-0 9, Kamryn Bradford 3 0-0 7, Annie Dettwiller 1 1-2 3, Bree Hicks 0 0-0 0, Gracie Ashley 11 2-5 24, Katie Strickland 4 0-0 8; TOTALS 23 3-7 51; Three-point field goals: 2 (Ella Kirby and Kamryn Bradford 1 apiece)