PDT Sports Contributor
MCDERMOTT – The experience that a team can gain from playing in big sectional tournament games can prove to be a tremendous asset down the road.
Notre Dame used that prior experience to take out a young but talented Western Indians ball club by a 60-50 tally in a Division IV Sectional Final matchup at Northwest High School Thursday evening.
J.D. McKenzie said that the way that the Titans pressed the Indians in the contest was one of the keys to winning tonight’s contest. Overall, Notre Dame forced Western into 21 turnovers on the evening compared to 15 for the Titans.
McKenzie said that the presence of Maggie Hoover off of the bench as well as Lauren Edwards’ performance at one of the guard spots was vital to the success of Notre Dame’s full-court press.
“We did what we had success with before, and that was full-court pressing them,” McKenzie said. “We didn’t know how much we were going to do it due to Maggie Hoover’s injury, but she came off the bench for us tonight and gave us big minutes. Lauren Edwards did a great job starting in her place as well.”
The contest was tight from the opening tipoff with the Indians gaining an 8-7 advantage to start the game before the Titans went on a 10-0 run to take a 17-8 advantage early on in the second frame.
Notre Dame’s lead would remain steady through the rest of the half as the Titans took a 25-18 edge into the locker room.
Western was able to cut the gap to 27-24 with less than three minutes gone in the third quarter, but a 17-8 Notre Dame run ensued until the end of the frame, which was started by Katie Stevenson as the senior scored six straight points to start off the run.
The Indians would make one final run as Western cut the Notre Dame lead from 14 points to seven with just over five minutes remaining in the contest behind buckets from Caitlin Rhodes and Chrissy Woods.
However, the Titans would squash any hopes of a comeback by hitting 12 of their final 16 free throws to win by the aforementioned 10-point margin.
Stevenson used her past sectional experiences to her advantage on the evening by scoring a game-high 19 points on the night, with a dozen of those points coming in the first and third quarters combined. Stevenson also added three assists and three steals to the box score for Notre Dame.
“(Stevenson) knocked down some good shots for us,” McKenzie said. “She was aggressive defensively, just played a great all-around game. She didn’t want it to be her last game, and she played like she didn’t want the game to be her last.”
McKenzie was also impressed with the play of Brooke Pierron, who put up a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and added four assists and four steals of her own.
“(Pierron) did a good job for us, scoring, and then rebounding,” McKenzie said. “They came out and played a 1-3-1 zone, and they hadn’t played that on us this year. That kind of slowed us down offensively, but we were patient, worked (the ball) around and got some pretty good shots and knocked them down.”
From a team standpoint, McKenzie was most impressed with his team’s overall intensity level at both ends of the floor.
“Everybody played real well,” McKenzie said. “We hadn’t come out the last couple of games with that level of intensity and we got refocused in practice and knew that this (game) was a big one and the girls really came out and played with a lot of energy. It was good to see.”
For Western, Tiffany Carroll was proud of her team’s performance but said that missed shots were her team’s undoing on the evening.
“… We missed a lot of layups, left a lot of points out there, but in the end, they fought hard, they played hard,” Carroll said. “I hate it for the seniors, but we have a young core (coming back) and we’re really looking forward to next year.”
Carroll said that Woods, who scored 14 points on the evening for the Indians, put up the numbers that she has been putting up all season long in the contest.
“That’s the norm for (Woods),” Carroll said. “That’s what we expect from her. She leads us in scoring and rebounding.”
“… She’s just a dominant force inside and she’s just a junior, and she’s only going to get better, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s going to do over the summer and next year.”
Rhodes normally does not start for the Indians, but got the call to start tonight after she had what Carroll described as “a really good week of practice.”
“She’s normally not in our starting lineup, and we decided not to make the change tonight,” Carroll said.
“… With her performance in practice over the week and with her being a senior and the possibility of this being her last game, we thought she might be a spark and she definitely was.”
In addition to Rhodes, Western will also lose Kayla Dalton and Liz Jackson. Dalton, like Rhodes, was a reserve, while Jackson sustained a shoulder injury earlier in the season and was out for the year.
Notre Dame cannot afford to breath too easy, however, as the Titans will be playing the #1 ranked team in all of Division IV in Reedville Eastern when Notre Dame takes the floor again next Saturday in Jackson.
“We played them when they were sophomores, and they were pretty good then, and they’re seniors now,” McKenzie said. “They’re the #1 team in (Division IV), but we’re not going to think about that. We’re going to prepare for them like we would any other game and let the chips fall where they may.”