JACKSON — Some nights, the basketball just doesn’t bounce your way.
Notre Dame hasn’t experienced many nights like that over the past two seasons, ripping off an overall record of 49-3 while earning two straight district titles … the school’s first two in history.
But unfortunately, Notre Dame’s inability to escape off nights caught up with the Titans in Thursday’s 46-42 loss to Peebles at Jackson High School, in a Division IV regional semifinal.
Maybe it was the pressure, maybe it was a lack of ball security, or maybe the top-seeded Titans (24-2) took Peebles for granted. But whatever it was, it was untimely.
“It wasn’t an effort thing, it was just an execution thing,” Notre Dame coach McKenzie said. “I told them in the locker room that it wasn’t on them. That’s on me and I feel like I let them down. I’m going to be harder on myself than I am them. But it’s late in the tournament and it’s good competition. I don’t want to take anything away from Peebles. They did a great job tonight.”
The Indians (19-7) certainly didn’t make life easy for the Titans’ offense, forcing 17 turnovers and taking advantage of earned extra looks at the basket.
When Notre Dame took a 37-30 lead with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter, Peebles was on its heels. However, the Indians stayed calm and forced two straight turnovers before watching Notre Dame’s Ava Hassel foul out with just over two minutes left in regulation.
From there, with Hassel sidelined, the Titans had even more trouble taking care of the basketball. As momentum swung, the Indians used it to their advantage and hit shots when they needed to the most.
“We turned the ball over too much and gave [Peebles] too many extra opportunities,” McKenzie said. “We were up seven at one point and the wheels fell off. We turned the ball over twice in a row and couldn’t take care of the ball after that. Then, when Ava fouled out, some frustrating calls … but give Peebles a lot of credit. They knocked down shots and forced turnovers.”
What the Indians couldn’t do, however, was find an answer for Notre Dame’s Katie Dettwiller. The 6-foot-4 senior ended the night, and her career, with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
“We found [Dettwiller] late in the game but I don’t think we found her early enough,” McKenzie said. “She’s a senior, and at some point, you get to thinking, ‘Is this my last game?’ You don’t want it to be and you play your butt off. We got her the ball and she played her butt off.”
Dettwiller isn’t the only senior to end her time with the Titans. Clara Hash and Baylee Webb also join that group, one that laid a stout foundation for the program’s future.
“I just hugged those seniors for the last time in the locker room and that was hard,” McKenzie said. “I looked at Katie before the game started and I said, ‘You have to be the baddest player on the planet tonight’ and she lived up to it. I thought Clara did an awesome job for us, especially when we went to the 1-3-1 defense in the second half. Then, Baylee Webb, she may not play much for us but God, she’s an awesome person to have around your team.”
Tale of the tape
Right off the bat, Peebles’ Tatum Arey made her name known, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead with a jumper at the 5:54 mark in the first quarter. Arey’s jumper haunted the Titans all night long.
After Hash got Notre Dame on the board, Dettwiller scored four straight to put the Titans up 6-2 with 1:56 remaining. However, behind buckets via Lilly Gray and Jacey Justice, Peebles forced a 6-6 tie heading into the second.
The two teams traded leads in the second until Peebles went ahead 15-10. But after Hash scored with 2:34 to go before halftime, Hassel ripped off five straight points, giving Notre Dame a 17-15 edge with 1:12 left. The Indians tied the score with less than a minute, sending the game into the break, tied 17-17.
In the third, Dettwiller got a bucket and a foul, giving the Titans a 20-17 advantage at the 7:14 mark. Notre Dame didn’t trail again until the 2:17 mark in the fourth.
Heading into the final eight minutes with a 35-30 lead, Notre Dame scored again to make it 37-30 with 7:22 left in regulation. However, as McKenzie said, that’s when the wheels fell off.
Behind Arey and Justice, Peebles went on an 11-2 run, taking a 41-39 lead with 1:52 left. Down the stretch and without Hassel on the court, the Indians hit their foul shots while the Titans couldn’t catch a break … thus ending a 24-win season.
After Dettwiller’s 26-point, 10-rebound, five-block performance, Hassel ended the night with eight points, six rebounds and three assists. Hash had four points, and both Olivia Smith and Isabel Cassidy scored two points apiece.
For the Indians, Arey led the team with 15 points while Justice scored 13 and had three assists. Gray also contributed, scoring 10 points and grabbing a team-high five rebounds.
While the losses of Dettwiller, Hash and Webb will leave three significant gaps, the Titans’ future isn’t dim by any means. Hassel, Sophia Hassel, Taylor Schmidt, Cassidy, Smith, Claire Dettwiller and many others are set to return next winter.
“They have to work as hard as our three seniors did and want to get better,” McKenzie said. “They can’t be satisfied with this. They can’t be content with this. The goal has to be established of getting back to this level and getting farther. It’s just going to take time and effort.”