Having built up a head of steam with a third-place finish in last week's Best of Preps event, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish did a spot-on job of sustaining it Friday night with a 71-47 dissection of a rusty Grace Academy squad.
But dead ahead for the Irish is the make-or-break portion of their schedule: a two-week tour of the Sequatchie Valley with road games of, in order, Sequatchie County, Signal Mountain, Grundy County and Bledsoe County. Already 1-1 in the big district (11-5 overall), a misstep here would complicate the postseason picture for Coach J.P. Nerburn's team.
For his part, Nerburn isn't seeing much cause for concern.
“I think we're prepared to play anyone, anywhere,” said the coach. “Defensively, I know we're 10 times more prepared than we were two weeks ago.
“They are going to be some tough games, but we'll approach them as a team, as a group effort.”
One cause for Nerburn's lack for concern is the 100 percent healthy status of his remarkable point guard, Steadman Ford. Friday night, he spent one half distributing the ball, in particular getting Kelsey Green 11 of his 13 points in the first half.
But after intermission, the open made he most often found was himself. Ford scored 17 of his 25 points in the third and fourth quarters as the Irish press became even more crushing to Golden Eagles. It was the kind of game Grace needed, according to head coach Jon Mathiess.
“It was first game since December 20th – and it looked like it, obviously,” said Mathiess, whose regular season schedules are, quite literally, the best of preps. “We keep playing Double-A and Triple-A people to make us battle ready for the Class A tournament.
“On nights like this, I have to remind them that it works, that it has worked – five of the last nine years, in fact,” said the coach.
Kywan Davenport added 11 points to the winning ledger for Notre Dame, while Brendan Harris unofficially posted 11 rebounds. For Grace (6-6) Austin Powell finished with 14 points and a handful of rebounds and Blake Savard hit a pair of 3s in finishing with 12 points.
Lady Irish Defense Squeezes Grace
Notre Dame returned to its winning ways thanks to a smothering defense that completely frustrated the visiting Grace Academy girls Friday night, 43-20.
Trailing by only three points after the first quarter, Grace went over 12 minutes without scoring a single point. That allowed Notre Dame to post 13 consecutive points and coast home a winner. Keona Berman was the only player in double figures for the Lady Irish (11-4), who begin a string of four straight district road games Tuesday in Dunlap. They current stand 2-0 in the district.
Grace Academy 13 11 13 10 – 47
Notre Dame 18 16 21 16 – 71
GRACE ACADEMY (47) – Stack 7, Hernandez 2, Smith 9, Blake Seward 12, Tisdale 4, McQueen 2, Austin Powell 14.
NOTRE DAME (71) – Stedman Ford 25, Carter 4, Mink, Kealey Green 12, Kywan Davenport 15, Byrd 8, Darras 2, Harris 4, Johnson, Morton.
3-point goals: GA 2 (Savard 2); ND 7 (Ford 5, Davenport 2). Records: Grace Academy 6-6, Notre Dame 11-5.
Grace Academy 10 0 2 8 – 20
Notre Dame 13 7 13 10 – 43
GRACE ACADEMY (20) – Main 2, Gill 1, Barnes 1, Goodman 2, Compton 4, Nunley 5, Carter 1, Mishus 2, Reutenwk 1.
NOTRE DAME (43) – Higgins 8, Gagne 4, Hoffer 4, Keonna Berman 10, Add 4, Ripper 4, Rehnquist 8, Witter 1, Cantrell.
3-point goals: GA 1 (Nunley); ND 1 (Gagne); Grace Academy 4-8; Notre Dame 11-4.