JACKSON — A sign of a good team is one that’ll overcome what adversity throws at them.
And true to form, the Notre Dame Lady Titans did that on Thursday evening.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, it just didn’t result in the star-studded group ending up on the right side of the scoreboard.
Despite suffering through two scoreless droughts that lasted a combined nine minutes in the second half, the Lady Titans were able to come back from a 10-point second-half deficit (38-28) to not only send the game to one, but two overtime periods.
However, Laura Pullins’ 34 points, including a breakaway layup off of a steal with 36.2 seconds remaining in the second overtime, allowed Reedsville Eastern to seal the deal and obtain a 58-53 victory over Notre Dame in the Jackson I District Bracket’s Division IV District Final at Jackson High School.
For J.D. McKenzie, it was another tough way to go out. However, the fact that his girls fought back into the contest after facing a 10-point deficit showed the veteran coach the kind of pride that he has seen out of his team all season long.
“Eastern’s really a good ballclub,” McKenzie said. “They’re very sound. It’s a tough loss because we had our opportunities. We had the free throws to put the game away, and we had the open looks to put the game out of reach, but we just didn’t make some of the shots that we normally do make tonight. Still, I am so proud of the girls. We got down 10 points there, and they battled their butts back into it. We fell short a little bit tonight, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. We had a great season. We wanted to bring home a district championship, but it wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
Initially, Notre Dame struggled to get anything rolling offensively as turnovers, the defensive pressure supplied up top by the Eagles, and two treys by Becca Pullins allowed Eastern to jump out to an 11-6 lead in the game’s opening minutes.
However, the Lady Titans soon found a rhythm behind the play of Lexi Smith.
After making a 17-foot jumper from the left elbow and muscling through a Reedsville Eastern defender to go on a personal 4-0 run, Smith caught fire, and not only allowed Notre Dame to tie the score at 14 at the end of the first, but hang around through the second quarter.
In all, the junior forward accumulated a monstrous 16-point first-half, which allowed the Lady Titans to enter the half down just one possession, 30-28, after the early five-point deficit. Smith scored a team-high 26 points to pace Notre Dame on the evening.
“Lexi had a great game for us,” McKenzie said. “She was an absolute beast inside. I just kept telling her, ‘Play strong, play strong, play strong.’ We probably could’ve gotten her more low-post touches than we did, but it just didn’t happen. We had some turnovers at bad times. She was huge for us and kept us in the game a couple of times. She hit a big three (at the end of the first half), finished at the rim well, and was big on the boards for us.”
In the third quarter of play, however, Notre Dame went cold on the offensive end.
Six straight missed free throws, and additional crucial misplays, hurt the Lady Titans in a scoring drought that lasted nearly six full minutes in the third quarter as the Eagles put together their 38-28 lead — its largest of the contest — with 2:14 remaining in the third frame.
“Eastern did a good job of mixing up defenses,” McKenzie said. “They ran some box-and-one and some triangle-and-two, along with some other looks that made it difficult on us. They trapped out of different areas, and we kind of expected that. We worked on playing against pressure and trapping in practice, and did a good job. For the most part, we were ok tonight; it’s just that at bad times, we made some bad decisions, and it cost us.”
But to the Lady Titans’ credit, their offensive woes never affected their effort on the defensive end of the floor.
Behind the play of Smith, who added two additional buckets to end the third quarter, and Katie Dettwiller, who scored nine of her 13 points in the second half of play, Notre Dame was able to cut the lead down to a 38-34 count by the end of the third frame.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Titans again suffered through a sizeable scoring drought that lasted nearly three minutes long.
However, Notre Dame’s defense, including the shot-blocking presence that Dettwiller provided down low, presented Eastern Meigs with some issues of their own as the Eagles only mustered one point over that same span.
Then, the Lady Titans came back with a vengeance on the offensive end.
After Dettwiller nailed a basket that cut the lead to a 39-36 count, the sophomore was able to draw a foul with 2:14 remaining in regulation following a defensive rebound.
Even though the 6-4 big was only able to make the front end of the double bonus, Hagen Schaefer was able to come up with a nifty play by sneaking around an Eastern Meigs player, getting inside position, and the rebound. Schaefer was then able to draw contact as she finished the second-chance opportunity, and converted the and-one in the process to put Notre Dame ahead by a 40-39 count with 2:03 to go.
The result after that was a scramble that saw Laura Pullins and Smith make play after play. A Pullins trey was answered by a Smith low-post basket, and the latter then answered the former’s drive to the basket with a putback with 1.8 seconds left to send the game to its first overtime.
With both teams remaining dead-even towards the end of the first overtime, Notre Dame held for the last shot, and in the process, was able to find Schaefer wide-open in the left corner from downtown. The senior’s three-point attempt with 1.4 seconds left glanced off of the right side of the rim and back out, which forced the contest to its second overtime.
There, Laura Pullins took over for the Eagles.
Despite two huge buckets from Dettwiller and Smith in the second overtime frame, the 6-0 senior guard countered with nine straight points, including a trey that rolled into the hoop, and the breakaway layup. Three Notre Dame turnovers in consecutive possessions then allowed Pullins to hit the free throws that put the contest away.
For McKenzie, however, the efforts of his unit aren’t lost on him — especially when he looks at his two senior hands in Schaefer and Catelynn Ball.
“Hagen’s been a four-year starter, and Catelynn came in here as a transfer her junior year while serving as our first person off of the bench for us during most of her time with us,” McKenzie said. “Catelynn would start on most teams around the area. When she comes in, she gives us great minutes. You can’t replace Hagen’s leadership and you can’t replace what Catelynn does for us as a leader and coming off of the bench for us and sparking us with some energy. It’s going to be sad to see them both go.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7