Titans take aim at Final Four berth


By Paul Boggs - pboggs@aimmediamidwest.com



Notre Dame senior Olivia Smith (10) and her Lady Titan teammates take on Fort Frye for the Division IV regional championship on Saturday night at Pickerington North High School.

Notre Dame senior Olivia Smith (10) and her Lady Titan teammates take on Fort Frye for the Division IV regional championship on Saturday night at Pickerington North High School.


Courtesy of Kent Sanborn of www.southernohiosportsphotos.com

PORTSMOUTH — So the Lady Titans took that next step into Elite Eight company.

But hey, let’s just ask the question.

Why stop their thrill ride now?

Indeed, Notre Dame —now a regional finalist for the first time in girls basketball — doesn’t want to just be satisfied with exacting a measure of revenge on Peebles, and capturing its first regional semifinal win in three all-time tries.

No, after a Titan-ic victory like that, easily arguably the biggest in program history, all they want to do is win the next one —which would advance them into the rarefied air of the coveted state tournament.

That’s what awaits Notre Dame — the second-ranked squad in the final Associated Press statewide poll — as it faces Fort Frye for a berth in the Division IV Final Four, as the Titans and Cadets will play for the Region 15 championship on Saturday night at Pickerington North High School.

Tipoff time is set for 7:30 p.m., as the winner will advance to the Division IV state semifinals — set for next Thursday night inside Ohio State University’s historic St. John Arena.

Both teams are a stellar 24-2, and were the top seeds in their respective districts (Notre Dame in Southeast and Fort Frye in East), as the Lady Cadets and veteran head coach Dan Liedtke have already appeared in the state tournament once before.

Notre Dame, under the guidance of 10-year head coach and 2020 Division IV (Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association) Southeast District Co-Coach of the Year J.D. McKenzie, is appearing in its first-ever regional championship tilt —getting past Peebles 36-30 in Thursday’s semifinal and avenging last season’s stunning 46-42 loss to the Lady Indians in the same round.

“We are very blessed to have the opportunity to be playing in the regional finals against a great program like Fort Frye. The Notre Dame community was out in full force last night (Thursday night), which was a big help for our team energy, and we are hoping to have an even bigger following tomorrow night (Saturday night),” said McKenzie, via text message on Friday. “We are expecting a very physical and aggressive game.”

Notre Dame did a spectacular job defensively against the Division IV (OPSWA) Southeast District Player of the Year Jacey Justice —face-guarding and limiting her to 10 points including all three of her free throws with just two minutes and 10 seconds remaining.

The Lady Titans also overcame offensive struggles of their own —by dominating defensively and holding the Lady Indians in check on the boards, as six-foot junior center Claire Detwiller grabbed an impressive 20 rebounds.

Speaking of defense, though, the Lady Cadets play it just as well as Notre Dame.

Like the Lady Titans, their only two losses are to bigger schools in Warren and Wheeling Park (W. Va.), as Warren —which went 23-2 and advanced to the Division II district championship game — was the only team to score at least 47 points (49) against them all season.

Only five times has Fort Frye allowed at least 40 points, with most of its opponents even being stymied for less than 30 — including now all five of its postseason foes.

Just ask Berne Union, which the Lady Cadets defeated 37-28 in Thursday’s other semifinal — played at Pickerington North.

More on that subject in a minute.

In fact, Fort Frye’s first-team all-East District honoree and leading scorer at 15 points per game— five-foot seven-inch sophomore Hannah Archer — amounted only a single free throw against the lengthy Lady Rockets.

Berne Union threw three starters listed at 5-10 or taller at Archer, but other Lady Cadets stepped up, including senior Kiersten Kesselring —who delivered a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Lexie Huck, a 5-5 junior who averages 11 points per game and made third-time all-East District, hit a pair of crucial three-pointers.

Kesselring and Olivia Schneider were the Lady Cadets’ pair of Special Mention selections, while 5-2 junior point guard Kenzie Dalton made second-team all-district and averaged nine points per game.

The legendary Fort Frye lifer Liedtke shared the East District’s Division IV Co-Coach of the Year award with Beallsville’s Tori Jarrett.

Given the Lady Cadets’ lockdown defense, the Lady Titans likely need to score more than 36 points to win —preferably get at least 40 if not closer to 45.

Notre Dame, despite a game-high 13 points from now two-time first-team all-Southeast District standout Ava Hassel including two of the team’s three three-pointers, made only 2-of-15 from long range in the first half against Peebles.

The Lady Titans, especially in the tournament, have struggled shooting at times from the perimeter —but will need to be on come Saturday night in order for them to penetrate “The Fort”.

It’s already anticipated to be a high-pressure but low-scoring defensive rock-fight, so Hassel (16.3 points per game), Detwiller (6.8 ppg) and repeat second-team all-district pick Taylor Schmidt (10.7 ppg) shoulder the burden of finding points and making shots.

The Lady Titans are also at a disadvantage as far as familiarity with playing at Pickerington North, given Fort Frye was just there on Thursday.

Notre Dame and Peebles played again, by being the two Southeast District Division IV champions, at Jackson High School for the regional semifinal — which has been an often head-scratching setup for several years now.

The other semifinal, and of course the regional final, has always taken place at Pickerington North — and usually features the district winners out of the Central and East.

The only other Ohio High School Athletic Association regionals which have this split-site setup are Division II Region 6 for the girls and Division I Region 2 for the boys.

However, if you ask the Lady Titans, they don’t care where they are playing — just the fact that they are still playing.

Which begs the question for Saturday night.

Why stop Notre Dame’s thrill ride now?

Notre Dame senior Olivia Smith (10) and her Lady Titan teammates take on Fort Frye for the Division IV regional championship on Saturday night at Pickerington North High School.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2020/03/web1_3.6.20-ND-FF-Preview-Smith-1.jpgNotre Dame senior Olivia Smith (10) and her Lady Titan teammates take on Fort Frye for the Division IV regional championship on Saturday night at Pickerington North High School. Courtesy of Kent Sanborn of www.southernohiosportsphotos.com

By Paul Boggs

pboggs@aimmediamidwest.com

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at pboggs@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at pboggs@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved