Titans stand the test: Notre Dame holds off fight from Valley in district semis

CHILLICOTHE — Both Notre Dame coach J.D. McKenzie and Valley coach Tyson Phillips were complimentary of each other’s team and their performances following their meeting in a Division IV, Southeast District No. 1 semifinal.

And for good reason.

That’s because the top seed in the Southeast District Lady Titans earned a 38-28 win to advance to their eighth-straight district final, but not without a worthy fight from the No. 8 seed Lady Indians who were playing in their first district tournament since 2013.

“We were pretty solid defensively, held them to 28 which is what you want,” McKenzie said. “Offensively, we missed so many shots in the first half. Shot 21 times in the first half, they shot nine; we forced 13 turnovers and we had four. On a normal night we’re up 15 at half. I thought Tyson (Phillips) and Valley had a great game plan — they packed up the middle and what we wanted to do against it, Ella shooting we just couldn’t get them to fall in the first half. They were right on, and we missed some bunnies early. It was a great test and Valley played really well.”

“They’re a good team, thought we gave them too many second chance opportunities,” Phillips said. “Our first shot defense was spectacular. Giving a good team two or three offensive rebounds a possession is too much to overcome. At the end they miss the front end of a one-and-one, they get the offensive rebound. Just can’t give them that many chances.”

A low-scoring, defensive first half set the tone for the grind it out game that took place inside Larry Jordan Gymnasium at Southeastern High School on Thursday.

Notre Dame took a 16-10 lead into the halftime locker room and extended their lead to as many as 13 at 25-12 in the third quarter.

But Valley rallied back, ultimately winning the third 13-12 and to trail by just two possessions (28-23) in the final eight minutes.

Valley junior Lexie Morrow (23) dribbles while being guarded by Notre Dame senior Annie Dettwiller (11) during Thursday’s Division IV district semifinal at Southeastern High School.

Jacob Smith | Daily Times

Their strength of schedule and fighting through adversity over the course of the regular season were reasons Phillips said he knew his group wasn’t going to break when faced with another tough situation.

“It’s been a lot of adversity this year,” Phillips said. “Even though we’ve played 24 games, we’ve been injured all year. Every girl rose to the occasion and were excited about the opportunity to play a good team. And we felt comfortable with our strength of schedule that it was going to be a game — we knew we weren’t going to be blown out. We felt with our athleticism and our defense, only giving up 33-34 points a game against really good teams. It’s their effort, their heart, and they’re great kids who are very coachable.”

The Lady Titans finished off the fourth quarter as they did the first and second — holding Valley to just five points in the frame to earn their 10-point victory.

Junior Ella Kirby led ND in scoring with a game-high 14 points. Kirby was a menace on the defensive end, stealing seven Valley possessions of their 20 total turnovers in the game.

ND junior Gracie Ashley scored nine points on four-of-six shooting and grabbing six rebounds.

“Think she (Kirby) led us in scoring,” McKenzie said. “Could have had 25-30 if those ones that rattled in and out go down. Gracie did a really nice job again. At halftime we adjusted, went to more of a high-low look with our ball screen offense. Got some good looks to our post players and they finished well.”

For Valley, junior Lexie Morrow and senior Savannah Easter led the Lady Indians with nine points apiece.

Easter connected on a trio of three pointers — including two in the second half — that helped Valley crawl their way back into threatening their higher seeded foes.

The Lady Indians will graduate five seniors in Bella Fultz, Lucie Ashkettle, Easter, and Madison and Cassidy Montgomery who Phillips says will be sorely missed by their program.

“I’m going to miss them — our girls program is going to miss them,” he said. “They’ve been with me since day one. They’ll have a special place in my heart and in our program. From day one to now it’s amazing, even last night in practice watching what we work on and what we can improve on.”

Notre Dame will face No. 5 seed Eastern Meigs in the Southeast District No. 1 championship on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 12 p.m. at Piketon High School.

A win would give the Lady Titans their first district crown since the 2019-20 season and an appearance in the Region 15 semifinals against the winner of Mount Gilead and Fisher Catholic.

“Paint Valley is a really good defensive team, Eastern Meigs is a really good defensive team,” McKenzie said. “It’s a quick turnaround so we’ve looked at both of them even though you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourselves. They both have their strong points, size wise we have an advantage against Eastern and I think offensively we could do some things against both teams.”



Valley 5 5 13 5 — 28

Notre Dame 8 8 12 10 — 38

Valley (9-15): Bella Fultz 0 0-0 0, Kelsey Lebrun 0 0-0 0, Lucie Ashkettle 1 1-3 3, Karsyn Davis 0 0-0 0, Lani Spradlin 0 0-0 0, Savannah Easter 3 0-0 9, Emilie Johnson 2 0-0 5, Emilie Barr 0 0-0 0, Lexie Morrow 3 2-3 9, Madison Montgomery 1 0-0 2, Cassidy Montgomery 0 0-0 0; TOTALS: 10 3-6 28; Three-point field goals: 5 (Savannah Easter 3, Emilie Johnson, Lexie Morrow 1 apiece)

Notre Dame (23-1): Ella Kirby 5 0-0 14, Kamryn Bradford 0 2-3 2, Annie Dettwiller 2 3-6 7, Bree Hicks 0 0-0 0, Annabelle Ball 1 0-0 2, Gracie Ashley 4 1-2 9, Katie Strickland 1 2-2 4; TOTALS: 13 8-13 38; Three-point field goals: 4 (Ella Kirby 4)

Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved