PICKERINGTON — For a minute and 15 seconds, in the waning moments of Saturday night’s Division IV regional championship game, all five Notre Dame Lady Titan seniors were on the floor at the same time.
Unfortunately, it was the very last time in its entire life that particular fivesome — the winningest senior class in Notre Dame High School girls basketball history — will do such.
That’s because the Lady Titans’ stellar season, and a historic one, came to its unwanting end at Pickerington North High School — as the defensive-minded Fort Frye Lady Cadets defeated Notre Dame 49-31 to advance to their second all-time state tournament.
Both teams entered at an excellent 24-2, as the Lady Titans took the biggest step in program history on Thursday night —reaching the regional championship tilt for the first time ever.
In addition, Notre Dame — despite struggling shooting throughout its successful tournament trail — did feel optimistic about its offensive opportunities against the lockdown Lady Cadets.
But, the Lady Titans — try as they did — simply could not make shots against Fort Frye, which stymied Notre Dame to a season-low 31 points and season-worst 30-percent shooting on only 12-of-40.
The Lady Titans’ previous season-low just happened to be on Thursday night against Peebles, in which they scored 36, but because they defended the Lady Indians to near-perfection and held them to only 30 points — it was enough.
However, it was going to take at least 50 to defeat the Lady Cadets, as only rival Warren —one of Fort Frye’s two lone losses this season — has scored 49 against them.
The Lady Titans tried 18 three-point shots, but made just two of them for an icy 11-percent — and went almost three full quarters between the two makes.
Ava Hassel hit the first with five minutes and 25 seconds remaining in the opening quarter for Notre Dame’s largest lead at 7-2, but it wasn’t until only 6:18 remained that Taylor Schmidt swished the other —with the Lady Titans trailing 37-20.
Schmidt, on four field goals and 4-of-4 free throws, paced the Lady Titans with 13 points while Hassel —the junior standout who will likely land at least second-team Division IV all-Ohio when the honors are announced on Monday — had five field goals and a freebie for 12.
In fact, Hassel’s three was Notre Dame’s first attempt, as it missed the next 13 before Schmidt hit hers.
In between, the Lady Titans endured a pair of epic scoring droughts —the first spanning seven-and-a-half minutes in the first half and the second lasting four-and-a-half minutes of the second.
“We couldn’t get anything to fall,” said Notre Dame coach J.D. McKenzie, completing his 10th season Saturday night. “We were such a good shooting team for the majority of the season. But if you look at our three-point shooting throughout the tournament, it’s just abysmal. It’s frustrating, because we got some good looks and even some good looks in the paint. It just seemed like there was a lid on the basket. We never got a really good run going on them. And as bad as they (Lady Cadets) shot the game before (37-28 win over Berne Union in regional semifinals), they shot really well tonight.”
The Lady Cadets, which took advantage and splashed six trifectas of their own on 14 attempts through the first 26 minutes, reeled off 13 unanswered points to lead 15-7 two minutes into the second stanza — and posted nine more unanswered to lead 31-18 at the third stop.
In the fourth quarter’s first four minutes, Fort Frye got two field goals from Riley Medley, one bucket by Hannah Archer and two free throws from sole senior Kiersten Kesselring —before finishing the final four minutes with 13 free-throw attempts and 10 conversions.
Notre Dame was forced to foul trailing 39-23, and Kenzie Dalton drained 7-of-8 in that stretch —part of 8-of-9 for the game and a dozen points.
Archer added a split and Olivia Schneider sank two, as Kesselring and Archer in the opening period —and Schneider’s to jump-start the Lady Cadets’ third-frame run — popped a three-pointer apiece.
The Lady Cadets truly took advantage of their two-day familiarity with Pickerington North, as they defeated Berne Union there on Thursday in the other Region 15 semifinal.
Notre Dame and Peebles played again, by being the two Southeast District Division IV champions, at Jackson High School for that regional semifinal — which has been an often head-scratching setup for several years now.
Still, the Lady Cadets did make their shots and dominate the boards, attempting 14 twos and 14 threes while netting nine deuces and six treys.
Lexie Huck hit a triple of triples towards a team-high 13 points, including from the corner to cap the 13-0 first-half run — and again with 58 seconds remaining in the second quarter to make it 20-14.
But it was Archer’s shot from 30-feet to beat the first-quarter buzzer that truly turned the tide in Fort Frye’s favor.
With five seconds remaining in the quarter, Schmidt was whistled for her second personal foul for a bump along the baseline — giving the Lady Cadets the basketball out of bounds but in the backcourt.
Medley fired the inbounds pass to Archer, who got free from the Lady Titans’ defense about 30-feet from the basket —and banked-in a wide-open attempt to make it 12-7 and send the frenzied Fort Frye fans into celebration.
Once Fort Frye got the lead, it burned the clock by running the three-man weave out top — executing cuts in the lane and to the rim, and often getting open layups.
Besides Medley, Dalton, Archer and Huck had two two-point goals apiece — as Kesselring took advantage of the Lady Titans going towards the wrong basket off the tipoff, and scoring an easy lay-in.
Notre Dame did score the next seven points over the next two-and-a-half minutes, but Fort Frye followed that with its 13 unanswered.
“Everybody goes the wrong way on the tip and we give up an easy two points. Then we had something happen with the ball and they get another easy two points. Then they run a girl off what I thought was a really bad moving screen that comes wide open and they bank in a three. Seven points there where all three bounces go against us,” said McKenzie. “Bounces didn’t go our way tonight. It’s just frustrating.”
Hassel hit an old-fashioned three-point play to stop the drought at the 5:54 mark of the second, but Notre Dame got no closer than 17-14 from there.
The Lady Titans trailed 20-16 and 22-18 in the third, but were shut out over the final 4:22 of the quarter — as Schneider started the 9-0 run over a three-minute span with her three, before Huck hit her third following a lengthy possession in which Fort Frye drained precious time.
“We got it down to four twice, but just couldn’t get another one to fall there. We were giving them trouble with our 1-3-1 (full-court press zone defense), but we couldn’t get a make to get back in it,” said McKenzie. “But they are a really good team and are very fundamentally sound. It wasn’t like we lost to a slouch. They hit the shots they needed to and made their free throws in the fourth. We didn’t make shots and the ball didn’t bounce our way again.”
Archer added eight rebounds for the Lady Cadets, which outrebounded Notre Dame 23-16.
Hassel had seven boards to lead the Lady Titans — as Claire Detwiller in the first quarter, Isabel Cassidy in the third frame and Lauren Campbell in the final canto canned a field goal apiece.
Detwiller and Campbell had four rebounds apiece, as the Lady Titans turned the ball over 11 times.
Campbell was one of the five seniors, along with Schmidt, Paetyn Collins, Cassie Schaefer and Olivia Smith.
All five were on the floor together for the final time for a minute and 15 seconds before being substituted for.
“These seniors finished 96-8 in their career, which speaks for itself. They haven’t lost a conference game (Southern Ohio Conference Division I) in four years, they have four sectional titles and three district championships, and now a regional runner-up. This is the farthest anybody in the school has ever been. They set the standard, they are the winningest senior class ever, and they are going to be hard to replace,” said McKenzie. “We’re going to miss them dearly. That’s a great class as each girl brought something different to the table and did what they did in a special way.”
And thus, another special — and definitely historic — Notre Dame girls basketball season comes to an end.
“The girls played their butts off and we can live with that. We learned some things that we need to do differently for next year and this game will help us. We’re blessed to get this opportunity to play in the ‘Elite Eight’ that not many people do,” said McKenzie. “We’re disappointed that we lost, but we’re not disappointed in the effort. We left it all out there. Notre Dame is a special place and this was certainly a special season.”
Fort Frye 12 8 11 18 —49
Notre Dame 7 7 4 13 — 31
FORT FRYE 49 (25-2)
Kiersten Kesselring 2 2-2 7, Oliva Schneider 1 2-2 5, Lexie Huck 5 0-0 13, Karlee Ross 0 0-0 0, Hannah Archer 3 1-2 8, Kenzie Dalton 2 8-9 12, Julia Zalmanek 0 0-0 0, Khloee Ross 0 0-0 0, Riley Medley 2 0-0 4, Gwyneth Rauch 0 0-0 0, Mattie Schneider 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 15 13-18 49; Three-point field goals: 6 (Lexie Huck 3, Kiersten Kesselring, Olivia Schneider and Hannah Archer 1 apiece)
NOTRE DAME 31 (24-3)
Taylor Schmidt 4 4-4 13, Ava Hassel 5 1-1 12, Cassie Schaefer 0 0-0 0, Olivia Smith 0 0-0 0, Annie Detwiller 0 0-0 0, Claire Detwiller 1 0-0 2, Isabel Cassidy 1 0-0 2, Lauren Campbell 1 0-0 2, Paetyn Collins 0 0-0 0, Chloe Delabar 0 0-0 0, Kamryn Bradford 0 0-0 0, Ashley Holtgrewe 0 0-0 0; TOTALS: 12 5-5 31; Three-point field goals: 2 (Taylor Schmidt and Ava Hassel 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved