PORTSMOUTH — For the Lady Titans, in a matter of 16 minutes on Saturday night, a new team goal took shape.
That being seeing the Berne Union Lady Rockets again in the opening week of March — with that matchup meaning much more than it does in early January.
That’s because the undefeated and now 9-0 Lady Rockets handed host Notre Dame its first loss in eight games this season —as Berne Union outscored the Lady Titans 27-12 in the second half, including 13-2 in the fourth quarter, en route to capturing a noteworthy 44-28 non-league road win.
How important was Saturday’s showdown?
For those into Associated Press poll voting, both clubs are expected to appear in the Division IV Top 10 — when the opening of six weekly polls is released on Tuesday.
Notre Dame, in fact, has been a recent regular near the top of those rankings —finishing anywhere from the runner-up to inside the top five.
But more importantly, games are played on the court as opposed to on paper or on computers, and the Lady Rockets and Lady Titans were two of last season’s Division IV Region 15 semifinalists.
And, both are very possible to repeat as district champions again this year.
Fort Frye, which won the regional but has since moved back up to Division III, defeated Berne Union 37-28 in the semifinal —before topping the Lady Titans two days later in the championship tilt.
So there is a good probability that Berne Union and Notre Dame do in fact meet again in the regionals — and if you poll the Lady Titans and head coach J.D. McKenzie, that’s what they want.
“Playing a good team this early in the season is going to do a lot for us. It allows us to see what we need to work on and the areas that we are good in. Those areas we are not very good in, a game like this allows us to fix those going forward. We would like another chance at them. There’s things we would look to do different. If we got to play them again, they would see a team that played as hard as we did tonight, but also a team that executes better,” said McKenzie. “I’ve got two girls in their first year of varsity who are starting for us, and players coming off the bench who are freshmen. Their eighth game, they are playing a top-five (Division IV) team in the state. We’re going to be more seasoned by the time we would see them again. The hope is that we would be dramatically improved and in better shape and a lot more experience under our belts by that time.”
As for what went wrong for the Lady Titans against the experienced, athletic, tall and lengthy Lady Rockets?
In an anticipated defensive slugfest, Notre Dame didn’t crack 30 points —scoring only in the final quarter on a pair of Ava Hassel free throws with a minute and 12 seconds remaining.
Hassel, who poured in a game-high 20 points on seven field goals and 4-of-7 free throws, hit the Lady Titans’ final field goal —with 48 seconds to play in the third.
That got Notre Dame to a 29-26 deficit, but on a clear-out basket before the buzzer, Abbi Evans answered for the Lady Rockets to make it 31-26.
The Lady Rockets blasted off from there for 13 fourth-period points, including Mina Gorbach’s corner pocket three-ball to make it 41-26 and a dozen straight counters.
Twelve seconds later, Hassel had her free throws, but Gorbach scored again — as Bella Kline split a pair of free throws for the 44-28 final.
As both teams scored five second-quarter points, that meant Notre Dame scored just 17 over the final 24 minutes.
While the Lady Rockets ratcheted up defensively, Notre Dame didn’t get to the free-throw line enough —or make many of its inside opportunities.
The Lady Titans — which played just six players — took only nine free throws and made just four, and couldn’t buy a basket in the fourth quarter to keep pace.
“I’m going to give Berne Union credit and fault us at the same time. We knew since last year when we got Berne Union on the schedule that this was one we were wanting to get to play. They are a great team. They are very long and play physical defense. And we got shots that we normally make that we didn’t make tonight or we should have made that would have given us opportunities to do different things and maybe keep that game closer late in the fourth quarter,” said McKenzie. “We sat on 26 points for so long, and we couldn’t dictate what we wanted to do defensively without getting the ball in the hoop. It was one of those dry spells. We couldn’t get a jump shot to fall, we missed like seven layups in a row and four free throws in a row. The lid went on the basket at a bad time, and maybe we were a little bit tired.”
Besides Hassel’s 20, of which she scored 14 of the Lady Titans’ first-half 16, Claire Detwiller and Annie Detwiller scored four points apiece.
Claire Detwiller had buckets in the first and third quarters, as Annie Detwiller had her two baskets in the third.
Hassel book-ended the first frame with the Lady Titans’ two three-pointers —her first for the opening points of the game just 13 seconds in and the other with 42 seconds showing that got Notre Dame to within 12-11.
Hassel had the first four points, but then the Lady Rockets roared back with the next eight — as there were six total ties and three lead changes.
Notre Dame had a pair of three-point leads at 3-0 and 16-13, as the Lady Rockets held the lead for the final 16:42.
Over the final 10-and-a-half minutes, Berne Union outscored the Lady Titans 20-4 — as four Lady Rockets reached at least eight points for quality balance.
Evans, who had the guests’ only other three-pointer, ended up with 11 points on five field goals.
Sophia Kline chipped in 10 on four baskets and 4-of-5 free throws, while Bella Kline canned nine on three field goals and 3-of-6 foul shots.
Emily Blevins, with two key fourth-quarter drives for baskets, bagged eight.
McKenzie did say “defensively, we played a heckuva game”, but Berne Union did as well.
“I won’t call some of their late buckets cheap buckets, but in my mind, we kept that team under 40. Not many teams are going to be able to do that,” said the coach. “We’re one of them that can.”
And, hopefully for the Lady Titans, they will have another opportunity in March to not only see the Lady Rockets again —but this time put more points on the scoreboard than them.
“What I found out from this game was that we are better defensively than I thought we were, but offensively, we’re not where we need to be yet,” said McKenzie. “Hopefully, we will get both ends of the floor to where they need to be.”
Berne Union12 5 14 13 — 44
Notre Dame 11 5 10 2 —28
BERNE UNION 44 (9-0)
Abbi Evans 5 0-0 11, Faith Harmon 0 0-0 0, Sophia Kline 3 4-5 10, Baylee Mirgon 0 1-2 1, Emily Blevins 4 0-0 8, Mina Gronbach 2 0-0 5, Bella Kline 3 3-6 9; TOTALS 17 8-13 44; Three-point field goals: 2 (Abbi Evans and Mina Gronbach 1 apiece)
NOTRE DAME 28 (7-1)
Ava Hassel 7 4-7 20, Ella Kirby 0 0-0 0, Kamryn Bradford 0 0-0 0, Annie Detwiller 2 0-0 4, Claire Detwiller 2 0-0 4, Isabel Cassidy 0 0-2 0; TOTALS 11 4-9 28; Three-point field goals: 2 (Ava Hassel 2)
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