Lady Titans take the 5th!


The Notre Dame Lady Titans captured a Southeast District Division IV girls basketball district championship last Wednesday night, defeating South Gallia by a score of 70-64 in overtime at Wellston High School.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

WELLSTON — By the end of a late Wednesday night at Wellston High School, J.D. McKenzie kept all of his emotions in check —to the best that he could.

He had hugs all around —from his wife and assistant coach Crystal, to his coaching staff, to his players, and to the large contingent of Notre Dame Lady Titans supporters.

He received his Southeast District gold medal around his neck, then slowly climbed the ladder to cut down the final strand of another Division IV district championship net.

Indeed, the drive for five — and the final title for the 14-year NDHS head coach — was officially complete.

He did, however, dedicate the victory —and his fifth and final district championship as a head coach —to his late mother.

“That one was for my mom,” said McKenzie, his final words of his postgame interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times.

No doubt, McKenzie’s mother had the best seat in the proverbial Wellston High house — as the second-seeded Lady Titans took overtime, but rallied to defeat third-seeded South Gallia 70-64, capturing the girls basketball program’s fifth all-time such crown.

In fact, all five have occurred in the past half-decade —including last season and following three consecutive from 2018 thru 2020.

The Lady Titans raised their stellar record to 20-4, as McKenzie commented that arguably this fifth district championship was the sweetest of them all.

After all, McKenzie stepped away at the very outset of this season, missing the first half of the campaign —due to personal and family reasons, which included the passing of his mother.

Notre Dame High School girls basketball head coach J.D. McKenzie cuts down the net following the Lady Titans’ Division IV girls basketball district championship win.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

“It’s pretty sweet. As a coach, I’ve lost a district final in overtime. Now we’ve won in overtime. I felt like we worked so hard tonight just moving people around, doing different things and putting people in different positions and trying different stuff. These are the games that win you when them, they are super fun,” said the coach. “I had a blast tonight. It’s really sweet because I’ve got a great group of seniors that I didn’t want to see go yet. I’m super proud of them.”

Notre Dame sported six seniors, four of which — six-foot and one-inch post performer Katie Strickland, 5-11 all-around standout Gracie Ashley, 5-7 sharpshooter Ella Kirby, and 5-9 point guard Annabelle Ball —are solid multiple-season starters.

Senior members of the 2023-24 Notre Dame High School girls basketball team are, from left, Lilly Madden, Ella Kirby, Katie Strickland, Gracie Ashley, Annabelle Ball and Savannah Holtgrewe.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

And, all were instrumental in the Lady Titans’ comeback bid against the Lady Rebels, which were also Southeast District Division IV champions last season.

Strickland scored 26 on 11-of-13 shooting and 4-of-7 free throws, with 16 of her points coming in the second half and overtime.

Ashley added 20 points on five field goals — including a three-pointer apiece in the second, third and fourth quarters — and 5-of-6 foul shots, including two in overtime.

“Our two bigs, Gracie (Ashley) and Katie (Strickland), that’s where we needed our bread and butter against them,” said McKenzie. “We knew that. When we weren’t rushing on offense, and we got the ball in the post, great things happened.”

Kirby canned threes threes as well, and went 4-of-4 from the overtime foul line for 13 total points —as Ball and junior Kaylyn Darden split a pair apiece.

Both teams shot well (Notre Dame 23-of-47 for 49-percent and 16-of-27 for 59-percent from two-point range and South Gallia 22-of-48 for 46-percent and 13-of-25 for 52-percent from two-point territory), including 11-of-12 free throws for the Lady Rebels, but Notre Dame made 22 trips to the charity stripe —and swished 17.

In the overtime alone, after the Lady Titans ultimately erased their largest deficit of 37-29 only two minutes and 53 seconds into the third frame, they were 8-of-10 at the line —started by Ashley’s pair only 10 seconds in.

Notre Dame senior Gracie Ashley (34)

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

They never trailed in the extra session, leading by as much as 66-58 with 1:11 left —but it took a bit-blocked three-pointer by Kirby of Jacie Booth, with a 67-64 ND edge, to begin to secure the win.

Darden drained the second of two freebies with 28-and-a-half seconds left, then Notre Dame defended successfully another Lady Rebel triple try —shading and guarding tightly against the South Gallia shooters, and forcing a bad pass for a turnover with 9.5 tics to go.

Kirby, who made the free throws to make it 66-58 for Notre Dame’s largest lead, then iced the district championship with the final two points —two more foul shots and the 70-64 final.

In addition to defending the trifecta better, at least in the late stages anyway, the Lady Titans outrebounded South Gallia 33-18 —paced by Ashley with eight, and Strickland and Hicks with seven apiece.

Strickland, most famous for her buzzer-beating and game-winning shot in last season’s Region 15 semifinal against Fisher Catholic, spoke on behalf of the Lady Titan teammates.

Most of her game-high 26 came on baskets inside the lane, particularly on offensive rebounds.

Her rebound putback with eight seconds left made it 56-56 —and eventually forced the overtime.

“It’s a really good feeling. Before the game, we’re all told what our part is for that game. Tonight, mine was to score in the paint. They (Lady Rebels) really didn’t have a true post player, and so I had to get as many rebounds as I could and then play defense. My job was basically to get any ball that I could and put back,” said Strickland.

She continued, talking about the Lady Titans not panicking —when South Gallia gained the eight-point third-period push.

“We’re always told teams are going to have good runs and bad runs, and South Gallia had some good runs. But then that just means we had to counteract them with a few good runs of our own,” she said. “Keeping a high head and not get down on ourselves. Just knowing that in the end, we’ll pull it through.”

South Gallia defeated host Notre Dame 64-62 on Feb. 10, but the six-deep Lady Titans were without Ball that day —and junior starter Bree Hicks played banged up.

On Wednesday night, they combined for 10 points (Ball six and Hicks four), as Ball dished out half of the Lady Titans’ 16 assists.

Notre Dame senior Annabelle Ball (23)

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

In the first half this time around, there were four ties and five lead changes —as the Lady Rebels’ Madison Summers sank a three-pointer with 40 seconds left, making it 32-29 at halftime.

It remained a tight third canto, as Notre Dame did trim the 37-29 deficit down to 44-42 —before five more ties and a pair of lead changes in the fourth.

It was a frantic final 32 seconds of regulation, as Notre Dame did have fouls to give —as Darden did so on South Gallia standout senior Morgan Lyons, twice in fact in a span of 1.3 seconds.

With a mere .4 seconds left on the fourth-quarter clock, Lyons —with 22 points on eight field goals and 5-of-5 free throws —inbounded the ball from the side, but Notre Dame defended well the tip and the lob attempt, and the Lady Rebels never each touched the inbounds pass.

McKenzie mentioned an improved Titan tightening of its defense down the stretch.

“We had to run their shooters off the line, and I thought we got some big rebounds in the second half and forced some tougher shots from them, especially late in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We just kept fighting, played with a lot of heart, and we had to get stops. We went some 2-3 (zone) against them late in the fourth and overtime, and it really helped us. It slowed them down. Once we got the lead and got it to four in OT, we got to the line and I knew we were going to win.”

And, for the final time in McKenzie’s coaching career, the Lady Titans took the fifth —as in Southeast District Division IV championships.

Notre Dame was playing in its ninth consecutive district final —all under McKenzie’s tutelage of course.

“The girls weren’t ready to be done yet,” said McKenzie. “They’ve played in the district final every year, so they know what’s like to lose a couple, now we’ve won a couple. It’s sweet to send these seniors out this way.”

The likable and smiling Strickland concurred.

“There are six of us (seniors), so it’s really good to win this game again,” she said. “To win this for ourselves, it feels so good. Just knowing that we accomplished that ourselves.”

The Notre Dame Lady Titans celebrate their 70-64 Division IV girls basketball district championship win over South Gallia.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

* * *

South Gallia —18 14 12 12 8 —64

Notre Dame 17 12 13 14 14 —70

SOUTH GALLIA 64 (20-5)

Morgan Lyons 8 5-6 22, Lindsey Wells 1 0-0 2, Tori Triplett 8 4-4 23, Madison Summers 1 2-2 5, Jacie Boothe 4 0-0 12, Molly McWhorter 0 0-0 0; TOTALS ; Three-point goals: 22 11-12 64; Three-point goals: 9 (Jacie Boothe 4, Tori Triplett 3, Morgan Lyons and Madison Summers 1 apiece)

NOTRE DAME 70 (20-4)

Ella Kirby 3 4-4 13, Bree Hicks 2 0-0 4, Annabelle Ball 2 1-2 6, Kaylyn Darden 0 1-2 1, Gracie Ashley 5 7-8 20, Katie Strickland 11 4-7 26; TOTALS 23 17-23 70; Three-point goals: 7 (Ella Kirby and Gracie Ashley 3 apiece and Annabelle Ball 1)

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on X @paulboggssports © 2024 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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