McARTHUR — If the Notre Dame Lady Titans’ terrific 22-win season was going to end, it surely was going to conclude at either the University of Dayton, at Southeastern High School, or even at Pickerington North.
It wasn’t, however, supposed to end inside the “McArthur Mansion” at Vinton County High School on Saturday —but blame it not on the rain as Manilli Vanilli once did, but instead on a tenacious Waterford Lady Wildcats bunch.
That’s because, unfortunately for the Lady Titans, the Wildcats rallied from a 10-2 first quarter deficit —and outscored Notre Dame 33-22 over the final 28-and-a-half minutes, denying the Titans a fourth consecutive trip to the Division IV regional tournament following Saturday’s 35-32 outcome in the district championship game.
Yes, that’s correct.
The Lady Titans, last season’s Region 15 runner-up to Fort Frye, were aiming for a fourth straight district title — with the hopes of ultimately winning their first regional crown in program history.
Instead, and despite its defense doing the job in stymieing Waterford (18-6) to only 35 points on 30-percent shooting (12-of-40), Notre Dame didn’t enjoy any overall offensive success —scoring its second-lowest point total of the season and shooting just 33-percent (13-of-39).
The Lady Titans’ lowest point total came almost two months prior in their Jan. 2 home loss against Berne Union, in which they tallied 28 points —compared to 44 for the regional semifinalist Lady Rockets.
With the loss, Notre Dame ended its campaign at a stellar 22-2 —which included extending their Southern Ohio Conference Division I winning streak to an amazing 90 games.
Still, as veteran NDHS head coach J.D. McKenzie mentioned, it was of little consolation to the Lady Titans on Saturday —as they exited a tearful locker-room following the loss.
“The day we lose in the tournament is probably my least favorite day of the year. It’s the shear sadness you see on girls faces that have been through this for four years and you know and they know they won’t get another one (opportunity). It’s tough, man,” said McKenzie. “These girls were pretty resilient and bought into what we’re selling them and put in a new offensive system. They got better all year long, and it’s just unfortunate that we came up short at this level. I think we had a chance to move on past this, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
McKenzie continued by saying that the Lady Titans did defensively what they needed to do to prevail, but the offensive woes were overwhelming — against a quick and physically tough-as-nails Wildcat club.
“We didn’t run offense enough was the thing. We called several timeouts and talked about it at halftime, and felt if we would just run our offensive system, we would get looks. But we weren’t patient enough with it. Some of that has to do with Waterford’s pressure, but we missed some opportunities that we should have taken advantage of. And it seemed like a lot of those 50-50 balls ended up in their hands or got knocked out of bounds,” said the coach. “You can look at a one-possession game like that and there are several things that you look back on. We held them to 35 points, and when we hold teams to that, I’ll usually tell you we’re going to win. But we just didn’t do enough offensively. Defensively, we were good enough to win. Offensively, they made one more bucket than we did.”
For starters, Waterford turned the Lady Titans over 18 times —as Notre Dame missed 11 of its 13 three-point attempts.
After Ava Hassel hit for a game-high 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting and 2-of-2 first-quarter free throws, the only other Lady Titans to score were four points apiece from Claire Dettwiller and Annie Dettwiller —and a first-quarter basket from senior Isabel Cassidy.
Annie Dettwiller delivered baskets in quarters one and two, while Claire Dettwiller split foul shots in periods three and four —along with the opening basket of the final stanza that got Notre Dame to within 27-25.
But Waterford decided to double-team Hassel once it got behind 10-2 and she scored eight points — using a timeout to stop ND’s momentum, make the defensive adjustment, and turn the tide in its favor from there.
Hassel — the Lady Titans’ career scoring leader — had her 22 points, including the club’s two three-point goals in the fourth, which got ND to within 31-29 and 33-32.
But the Lady Wildcats weren’t shy about bodying up with her out on the perimeter, and banged her around often times as she drove the lane.
Hassel took 22 shots including 16 from inside the arc, but Waterford’s bumping her from opening tip to final buzzer took its toll.
With Notre Dame trailing 35-32 after Makenzie Suprano swished a crucial pair of free throws with 9.3 seconds left, the Lady Titans tried twice for the tie and to send the game to overtime —including inbounding the ball underneath their own basket with 3.2 seconds remaining.
But Hassel’s three-ball attempt was off balance and off the mark, meaning the fourth-seeded Lady Wildcats —the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division co-champions —were now perhaps a surprising district champion.
And, Waterford’s defense did win its championship.
Notre Dame’s dozen first-period points were the most by either team in the entire contest, as Waterford scored nine in each of the first three quarters —but limited the Lady Titans to just 11 combined counters over the middle two cantos.
There were three second-stanza lead changes, an 18-18 halftime tie and two third-frame lead changes, as a Lily Franchino rebound putback put Waterford in front for good —for the game’s final 14:20.
Suprano and Cara Taylor scored 10 points apiece to lead the Lady Wildcats, as Taylor’s three-pointer gave Waterford a 23-19 advantage —only to be increased to 31-26 on a Riley Schweikert split of free throws with 2:18 to play.
That’s when Hassel hit her first triple, but Schweikert made two more freebies for a 33-29 cushion —only to have Hassel splash again from the top of the key with 15 seconds showing.
Schweikert scored five points for Waterford, as Layken Jones drilled two first-half trifectas for the Lady Wildcats’ only other threes on 13 tries.
While Waterford returned to the regional, Notre Dame’s dominance courtesy of its 2021 senior class came to an end.
The program will graduate five seniors which went an incredible 96-8 over four years — Hassel, Cassidy, Claire Dettwiller, Chloe Delabar and Ashley Holtgrewe.
Holtgrewe and Delabar didn’t play on Saturday, and it was an especially tough shooting afternoon for Hassel, Cassidy and Detwiller.
Still, it’s a fivesome which has accomplished so much as Lady Titans.
That includes four SOC I championships, four sectional titles and three district crowns — and a regional runner-up a year ago.
“It’s a special group and they are one of the most special classes I’ve had the privilege of coaching,” said McKenzie. “They are a great group of kids coming from great families. They are great role models for these young girls. You just don’t replace that, and it’s going to be tough to see them go. But you are so proud of what they were able to accomplish.”
Unfortunately, Saturday will be a day that the Lady Titans try to honestly forget —instead of remembering.
“The worst thing about coaching is watching kids graduate, because you create such a great bond with them,” said McKenzie. “I love them to death and it hurts me as a father, because I think of them as my kids as well. It kills me to see them all in pain.”
* * *
Waterford 9 9 9 8 —35
Notre Dame 12 6 5 9 — 32
WATERFORD 35 (18-6)
Cara Taylor 3 3-4 10, Lily Franchino 1 0-0 2, Mackenzie Suprano 4 2-2 10, Layken Jones 3 0-0 8, Alayna Jones 0 0-0 0, Madison Hiener 0 0-0 0, Brianna Offenberger 0 0-0 0, Kara Carney 0 0-0 0, Riley Schweikert 1 3-5 5; TOTALS 12 8-11 35; Three-point field goals: 3 (Layken Jones 2, Cara Taylor 1)
NOTRE DAME 32 (22-2)
Ava Hassel 9 2-2 22, Ella Kirby 0 0-0 0, Kamryn Bradford 0 0-0 0, Anna Dettwiller 2 0-0 4, Claire Dettwiller 1 2-4 4, Isabel Cassidy 1 0-0 2, Gracie Ashley 0 0-0 0, Katie Strickland 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 13 4-6 32; 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