PICKERINGTON — With previously-unbeaten Berne Union out of the way with its stunning district semifinal loss, it appeared as if Notre Dame’s destiny to the Division IV girls basketball state tournament had cleared a serious roadblock.

However, whether it’s usually Division III, or this season for Division IV, there’s always the hovering —and storied and tradition-rich — Hiland Lady Hawks.

On Saturday night, the Lady Titans ran into a hot-shooting Hawks squad —as Hiland doused cold water on the Lady Titans’ tournament trail, and defeated Notre Dame 53-43 in the Region 15 championship tilt at Pickerington North High School.

The contest marked the Lady Titans’ second all-time appearance in a regional championship bout —the other occurring three years ago against Fort Frye.

Notre Dame’s three seniors of Annie Dettwiller, Kamryn Bradford and Mallory Boland were just freshmen then, but by Berne Union’s ouster in the Central District tournament —the Lady Titans’ prevailing thoughts, and obvious dreams of a regional championship, appeared more realized.

That was until three-point happy Hiland hit nine of them on Saturday night —including a perfect 5-of-5 from five-foot and four-inch freshman Evie Mast.

The Hawks attempted 20 trifecta tries, and 22 deuce attempts —as they made nine twos and nine threes, good for 43-percent shooting.

But, it was Hiland’s massive 27-3 advantage in three-point points which told the tale —and ended Notre Dame’s stellar season at 24-3.

That’s correct, the Lady Titans took three threes —two by Bradford and one by junior sharpshooter Ella Kirby.

Notre Dame senior Kamryn Bradford (10) drives around a Hiland defender during Saturday night’s Division IV Region 15 championship game at Pickerington North High School.

Jacob Smith | Daily Times

But Bradford’s basket with 23 seconds left in the opening quarter was Notre Dame’s only triple —as Hiland held the lead, following six lead changes and two ties (12-12 and 18-18), for the final 28 minutes and 24 seconds.

Ashley Mullett, with a game-high 23 points including three threes and 6-of-6 free throws in the final 51 seconds, made defensive life difficult for the Lady Titans —but the burner was Mast making 5-of-5.

“Little freshman goes out there and hits five threes,” said NDHS coach J.D. McKenzie, completing his 13th season as the Lady Titans’ mentor. “Really, at the end of it, that’s what hurt us. We did some really good things tonight, and Hiland is going back tonight thinking they were in a streetfight. It was a three-possession game (47-41 Hiland lead) with a minute to go before we had to foul and keep fouling and they knocked down their free throws. We had some opportunities we didn’t take advantage, but man, we played our hearts out.”

That the Lady Titans did, but tournament basketball is all about making —or not making —shots.

Hiland hammered home its, as Mast followed Mullett with 15 points —and Mallory Stutzman swished a three to break the 12-12 tie only 13 seconds into the second stanza.

Stutzman made four field goals, and Joplin Yoder added two buckets and 2-of-2 freebies for six points, as Mullett scored nine third-period points — before meshing her free throws in the last.

Mast, meanwhile, made three second-half threes —as the Lady Titans trailed 23-20 at halftime, but never were within five points over the final 13-and-a-half minutes.

Hiland, now 21-6 and regional championship winners in four of the last five seasons including over Wheelersburg in Division III two years ago, held a trio of 12-point leads —at 38-26, 41-29 and 47-35.

The Lady Hawks had a dozen steals off 16 Lady Titan turnovers, including a pair and layups by Mullett —making it 34-26 and 38-26.

Indeed, nine unanswered by the Lady Hawks over a span of 3:38 gave Hiland some separation.

“We left it all out there, but they were just a little bit better than we were tonight. They hit some shots when they needed to, we left too many opportunities out there to score, and had a couple of breakdowns defensively where we didn’t pick them up and they made us pay,” said McKenzie. “They had seven offensive rebounds in the first half and five points off those, and it’s a three-point game at halftime. Then they had a really good start in the third quarter. Their overall pressure defense just wears on you. It might not turn into a turnover, but it just turns into mental fatigue.”

The Lady Titans did shoot a sizzling 53-percent from inside the arc (16-of-33), including 51-and-a-half-percent (17-of-33) from two-point territory.

But they were outrebounded offensively 8-5, and committed too many ill-timed turnovers in the half court.

Gracie Ashley and Dettwiller attempted 10 shots apiece, with Ashley —after her 17-point performance in the 46-44 buzzer-beating semifinal victory over Fisher Catholic, leading the way with 16 points on seven field goals and 2-of-2 final-frame free throws.

She also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, almost half of the Titans’ 21 total.

Dettwiller added 13 points on five field goals and 3-of-5 second-half foul shots, as she made off with five steals and dished out four assists in her final game.

Dettwiller, on Saturday, was officially announced as the Southeast District Division IV Player of the Year —as bestowed by the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association.

Notre Dame senior Annie Dettwiller (11) puts up a shot over two Hiland defenders during Saturday night’s Division IV Region 15 championship game at Pickerington North High School.

Jacob Smith | Daily Times

Bradford scored seven points on two field goals and 2-of-2 tosses, Katie Strickland scored the Lady Titans’ two baskets to begin both halves, Annabelle Ball stole and scored to get Notre Dame within 47-41 with 1:39 to play, and Kirby split a pair of first-quarter free throws.

Kirby, beset by early foul trouble, took two shots the entire game.

Still, McKenzie commented he was proud of his Lady Titans’ resiliency, which showed itself again on Saturday night.

“I thought we were able to bounce back the couple times they went on a run. I’ve used the word ‘resilient’ with this group all year and they showed it again,” said the coach. “They fought till the very end and that’s all you can ask for.”

Unfortunately, Notre Dame’s dream season came to an end, and so did the Lady Titan careers of Dettwiller, Bradford and Boland —but McKenzie said his club has nothing to be ashamed of.

In fact, it was the Blue and Gold’s eighth consecutive season of at least 20 victories.

“Not a lot programs doing that. Of all eight schools left in Division IV today, we were capable of beating the other seven. It just so happened we ran into Hiland, but Hiland is why they are Hiland. They’ve been great for a long, long time. We had a great run of 24-3, and went to the final minute of a regional final. Super proud of the girls,” said McKenzie. “Disappointed that we didn’t make it to Dayton (Division IV girls state tournament), but still just couldn’t be any more proud of them. Losing these three seniors is hard, but now it’s somebody else’s turn to step up.”

* * *

Notre Dame 12 10 7 14 — 43

Hiland 12 13 16 12 —53

NOTRE DAME 43 (24-3)

Ella Kirby 0 1-2 1, Kamryn Bradford 2 2-2 7, Annie Dettwiller 5 3-5 13, Annabelle Ball 1 0-0 2, Gracie Ashley 7 2-2 16, Katie Strickland 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 17 8-11 43; Three-point goals: 1 (Kamryn Bradford 1)

HILAND 46 (21-6)

Ellie Habeger 0 0-0 0, Victoria Weaver 0 0-0 0, Evie Mast 5 0-0 15, Mallory Stutzman 4 0-0 9, Ashley Mullett 7 6-7 23, Kate Kaufman 0 0-0 0, Claudia Troyer 0 0-0 0, Joplin Yoder 2 2-2 6, Abby Miller 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 18 8-9 53; Three-point goals: 9 (Evie Mast 5, Ashley Mullet 3, Mallory Stutzman 1)

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