MCDERMOTT — The Notre Dame Lady Titans beat the Clay Panthers Saturday afternoon by a score of 62-44 to claim a Division IV Sectional championship. The win cements Notre Dame’s sixth straight sectional title and propels them to the next round of the tournament. For Clay, the young squad gave their all but their best basketball is in front of them as they grow as a unit.
Clay took a 1-point lead, 9-8 into the second quarter. Notre Dame was struggling from the field but dominated the post, both offensively and on the boards especially with Lexi Smith. Smith led all scorers with 24 and contributed 12 rebounds.
The Titans awoke in the second quarter. They started on a 9-0 run and never looked back. Despite hitting some shots Clay struggled with turnovers and rebounding against the size of Smith and Katie Dettwiler. Clay battled throughout the night, putting together runs but the Titans were finally able to take a commanding lead when Ragen Kayser hit a three pointer to put the Titans up by 15 with 3:30 remaining in the game.
Clay Head Coach Scott Cayton was proud of his young squad, and knows the future is bright for the Lady Panthers.
“They ultimately beat us down low,” said Cayton. “Their size bothered us, they had a lot of post shots and they outrebounded us. We have 11 freshman and three sophomores going forward. What I told the girls is that we aren’t going to get very much bigger, but, I can teach them to be more physical. We are going to get in the gym this summer and put in the work. We have an opportunity to be really special here. The girls just have to work for it.
“I’m just so proud of them, really. I couldn’t ask for anything more on or off the court in terms of effort. A lot of these girls are straight A students, they work hard and they are very intelligent. It’s just a big jump, not only from junior high to junior varsity, but skipping the JV team and going straight to varsity games. It’s a learning curve in terms of speed, and the mechanics of the game. But I expect we will get there, and we will be a special team going forward.”
Notre Dame Head Coach JD McKenzie celebrated the Titans’ sixth straight sectional. While he enjoyed the win, McKenzie wants to maintain focus heading into the next tournament game. They will face the winner of Trimble and Belpre on Thursday at Jackson High School. Game time will be at 8:00 p.m.
“Lexi Smith was a force inside for us,” said McKenzie. “She’s tough for them to guard, because they are such a small team. We knew they would try to deny the post because that’s our big advantage against them. She played physically and she owned the glass today. We didn’t shoot well tonight, but eventually Hagen Shaefer came on for us. Kayser had some good buckets as well.
“Our game plan tonight defensively was to deny Warnock as much as possible and try to make other kids score for them. But, despite that, there was no quit in Clay. They did a good job finding shooters off of penetration and knocking down some contested threes. That’s them, they love shooting the three even with pressure.”
The Titans are taking it one game at a time, just like they’ve done all season.
“We are going to get ready to play the next team from here. You can’t look further ahead than the next game, if you do you are doing yourself a disservice because you can lose a game to any of these tournament teams. Whoever we get we will start preparing for them on Monday. We would love to get back to the district finals. I told the girls after the game I didn’t think we played great though we did play hard. In the next round we will have to play great as well as give our all. That’s what it comes down to.”
Notre Dame 8 20 19 15 — 62
Clay 9 12 11 12 — 44
Notre Dame: L. Smith 24, Shaefer 20, Kayser 11, A. Smith 3, Dettwiler 2, Hoover 2
Clay: Delotell 14, Artis 8, Warnock 7, Balestra 6, Osborn 4, Adams 3, Brown 2
Reach Derrick Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @DC__Parker