JACKSON — As the seemingly somewhat-jovial “overrated” chants from the traveling Manchester pep-section echoed throughout the gym at Jackson High School, Notre Dame coach J.D. McKenzie wanted his team to, more or less, wake up.
“I pulled some girls out of the game to give them a little kick in the butt,” McKenzie said. “I let some younger girls in the game and said, ‘Let me know when you girls are ready.’”
Either way, McKenzie’s figurative “kick in the butt” or wanting to prove their naysayers wrong after a more-than sluggish start ultimately changed the tide in Thursday’s Division IV district semifinal after the top-seeded Lady Titans trailed No. 9-seed Manchester 11-2 with less than a minute to play in the first quarter.
The Lady Greyhounds — 53-39 winners over South Webster in their sectional final last Thursday — managed to fluster McKenzie’s group to eight first-quarter turnovers with just two made field goals.
That would be when the switch would flip, however, as the Lady Titans went on to outscore the Lady Greyhounds 27-4 during the latter portion of the first to the end of the third quarters en route to their 39-27 win.
“The switch flip was there, but I told them we don’t need to do that. That switch needs to be flipped when we start,” McKenzie said, “If a couple of those early layups go in, it maybe gives us some momentum and lets us get in our press and be able to control the game.”
From the start of the second quarter on, Notre Dame forced 18 Manchester turnovers after the Lady Greyhounds surrendered possession just four times during the first.
“We didn’t do a lot of trapping, they have a solid point guard,” McKenzie added. “But our pressure forced some bad decisions and passes, got them playing faster than I think they wanted to.”
Notre Dame senior Olivia Smith, a special mention all-Southeast District selection during her junior season, limited likely first-team all-Southeast District forward Brooke Kennedy to just one point in quarters one, two and three — before the junior Kennedy scored seven in the final stanza to lead the Lady Greyhounds with eight points.
“We had Claire (Dettwiller) on her early, but we saw pretty early we’d need to make a change. Olivia’s (Smith) one of those kids who can guard one-through-five; that’s what she does,” McKenzie said of Smith. “She’s not going to be first team all-district, but she does so many things you don’t see stat-wise. The ability to put her on a point guard or a center; that’s the most minutes she’s played in a long time because defense was more needed than offense tonight.”
Taylor Schmidt scored a team-high 11 points in Notre Dame’s fifth straight win in district tournament play, a mark spanning the last three seasons as the Lady Titans are the two-time defending Division IV district champions.
Claire Dettwiller broke into double figures with 10 points on four-made field goals while Ava Hassel managed eight.
With the win, Notre Dame advances to the program’s fifth straight district championship game in search of its third straight district championship and will be going against a familiar opponent from years past.
Belpre — 44-30 winners over Green in Thursday’s nightcap Division IV district semifinal — will be playing in their first district title game since 1997, when they won the program’s lone district championship 53-49 over Paint Valley in overtime.
While this year’s version of the Lady Titans have not faced the Lady Golden Eagles, the prior two teams under McKenzie did.
In those two regular-season contests, Notre Dame earned wins over its upcoming opponent by scores of 50-12 and 81-40, both of course with the now-graduated 2019 Division IV district Player of the Year Katie Dettwiller holding down the post.
However, the principles for McKenzie and the Lady Titans remain the same as they’ll play for their third district title in program history — the more defense they play, the more likely they are to win.
“We’ve played Belpre the last two years, they have a lot of the same personnel. If we show up defensively, we’ll be fine. If we don’t have some of that defensive intensity and aren’t doing the little things like boxing out or taking care of the basketball, we’re going to be in a dog fight.”
Overrated, underrated, or properly rated — the Notre Dame Titans continue to be one of the programs which set the standard in Division IV in the Southeast District.
“That’s a pretty good team — they were chanting overrated to us, but they’re underrated as a team,” said McKenzie of Manchester. “Got some film on them and got to see them play last year; they’re much better than their seed shows.”
Notre Dame and Belpre will battle for a Division IV district championship on Thursday, Feb. 27 back at Jackson High School with tipoff scheduled for 6:15 p.m.
Manchester 11 1 3 12 — 27
Notre Dame 4 15 10 5 — 39
Taylor Morrison 0 0-0 0, Karigan Turner 1 1-2 3, McKenzie Morrison 1 2-2 4, Sophia Paul 1 1-2 3, Madison Jones 0 0-0 0, Brooke Kennedy 3 2-5 8, Emily Sweeney 1 1-2 4, Yasmin Lewis 0 1-2 1, Hannah Hobbs 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 9 8-15 27; Three-point field goals: 1 (Emily Sweeney 1)
NOTRE DAME 39 (22-2)
Taylor Schmidt 3 5-8 11, Ava Hassel 3 2-4 8, Cassie Schaefer 1 0-0 3, Olivia Smith 0 0-0 0, Annie Dettwiller 0 0-0 0, Claire Dettwiller 4 2-3 10, Isabel Cassidy 1 0-0 3, Lauren Campbell 2 0-2 4; TOTALS: 14 9-17 39; Three-point field goals: 2 (Cassie Schaefer and Isabel Cassidy 1 apiece)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved