The Notre Dame basketball program celebrated Senior Night Tuesday and when all was complete all the Irish eyes were smiling.
It was a big evening for all involved, but perhaps the biggest smile belonged to Lady Irish coach Jason Hill who saw his girls clinch the Division II-A East District 2 regular season title with a resounding 60-37 win over Silverdale Academy.
The win washed away the taste of their lone league loss to the Lady Seahawks just seven days ago.
“This is the biggest win of the season for us thus far,” said Hill, his team now 20-8 and 8-1 in league play.
“That was one of our goals (regular-season title) and we have the top seed now let’s see what we can do with it.”
Hill’s counterpart with the boys, coach Jonathan Adams, was equally pleased with a hard-fought 59-50 triumph over Silverdale as the Irish stretched their 2018 win streak to eight games.
Notre Dame (18-10, 7-2) hasn’t lost a game since the Best of Preps tournament during Christmas break and the Irish are definitely established as a post-season threat.
An early-season loss to Grace Academy prior to Adams getting his full roster of football players from the state runner-up team will likely cost Notre Dame a top seed, but they are a team no one wants to play anytime soon.
Notre Dame split the regular-season series with Chattanooga Christian and the Chargers clinched the top seed last night with a win over Saint Andrew’s-Sewanee.
Notre Dame girls 60, Silverdale 37: It must have been some week of practice for the Lady Irish as they avenged last Tuesday’s 41-37 loss to the Lady Seahawks, who will with have to settle for the No. 2 seed with their 6-3 league mark.
“We had a really bad week of preparation leading up to last week’s game and we didn’t play our best. They took it seriously this week and turned the negative into something positive, a lesson learned,” said Hill.
The Lady Irish came out a blazing a trio of 3-pointers in the first from three different players and had a fourth one knock down three more from behind the arc in the second period in a dazzling display that left Silverdale in the wake.
Notre Dame led by 17-6 after the first period as Laura Rabuano, Jada Sims and Kate Ford each sizzled the nets with a bomb. Averie Sheppard loaded up with nine of her 11 points in the second period via long range and it was 34-18 at the break.
“We feed off the way we shoot the basketball, it just seems to spark our defense. It also got the crowd involved and got us going from the tip,” Hill added.
Ford and Sims each hit another trey early in the second half to stretch the lead out to 45-23 before Silverdale closed strong with a 6-0 run to close the quarter all from the hot-hand of Audrey Carter.
A strong defensive final period and several backdoor layups ended any doubt of the outcome and Notre Dame celebrated the championship.
Mackenzie Johnson only had four points for Notre Dame, but she owned the glass and was an intimidating force on the inside defensively to thwart what is usually a strong point for the Lady Seahawks.
“We have been trying to instill in her that she can be that player around the basket. She has the length, great feet and the size to be a force. She can be a big difference for us,” Hill noted.
Ford led the winners with a 16-point night and Sims added eight to go along with the nice 11-point effort by Sheppard. Carter wound up as the lone Lady Seahawk in double digits with 14.
Notre Dame boys 59, Silverdale 50: As strange as it may sound, it was the Silverdale defense which may have had the biggest influence on the ballgame. The Seahawks came out well prepared and ready for the rematch and all five players could tell coach Slater Belew what flavor gum the person they were defending in the first half was chewing.
“They came out and set the tone and normally that’s what we do. It was a great job on their part. They switched up defenses early on and really had us confused,” said Adams, who watched his club fall behind 16-10 after one.
Guard C.J. Greer was even more forthright: “They got in our grill with their defense. It got us motivated to show the kind of defense we feel like is our trademark. We tend be pretty aggressive and it a challenge to match their aggressiveness. We came out in the second half ready to get it”
And oh did they ever.
After scrambling to get their feet back under them, Notre Dame finally got its first lead at 19-18 on Greer’s layup on a run out after Akil Sledge’s rebound and full-court lob. Greer then followed up a Seahawks turnover with a drive and kickout to Joey Cochran for the trey.
Silverdale closed with four straight points to end the half knotted at 22-22 which was a feat in its own right since they only manage to get off four shots and had seven turnovers in the second quarter.
They weren’t as fortunate in the third as the Irish closed with 14-2 run to stretch it to 42-32 headed into the final quarter, forcing another six Seahawk turnovers and limiting them to only eight shots.
“Notre Dame is just a really good team,” said Belew. “We really set the tone and had a lot of energy, even at the end of the game. We had it down to three points, but the little things hurt us in the end. We preach the little things, and all the small details matter. Notre Dame is just really quick and fast, and the offensive boards at the end killed us.”
Silverdale used an 8-0 run to close an 11-point margin to just 51-48 with 1:02 left. The Irish missed a free throw but Greer got the rebound to force another made free throw and Derwin Lewis 3-point dagger with 22 ticks left all but ended it.
Notre Dame got a solid all-around performance from Sledge, who scored nine points, but had seven boards with six of them being offensive rebounds and added several dazzling assists from his inside position.
“Akil is our Draymond Green. He is our heart and soul just Green is for the Warriors,” Adams complimented.
Greer did his best Steph Curry impression, leading all scorers with 22 points, and he added six offensive boards as the Irish wound up with 18 offensive rebounds on the night in what was a difference maker.
Cade Hannah led Silverdale with a 14-point effort and Garet Gibson was good for another 13.
“I’m not into moral victories, but I will say I like what I saw with the kids efforts. We are excited about the post season and what it might bring,” added Belew.
Silverdale 6 12 11 8 -- 37
Notre Dame 17 17 11 15 -- 60
SILVERDALE (37) – Marcus, Carter 14, Caldwell 7, Hoover, Martin, Patrick, Woodard 4, Renegar 4, Lamb 3, Gibson 3, Montgomery 2, Patrick, Sheridan.
NOTRE DAME (60) – Sheppard 11 , Brown 5, Ball 2, Raabe, Ford 16, Sims 8, Rabuano 3, Sparks 5, Sharma 2, Johnson 4, Bird 4, Danberry.
3-points goals: Silverdale 2 (Carter, Gibson); Notre Dame 8 (Sheppard 3, Ford 2, Sims 2, Rabuano)
Silverdale 16 6 10 18 -- 50
Notre Dame 10 12 20 17 -- 59
SILVERDALE (50) – Sims 4, Crockett 1, Keylon 6, Johnson 8, Hannah 14, King 5, Gibson 13, Sanders, Mench.
NOTRE DAME (59) – Jones, Nelson 7, Greer 22, Cochran 6, Lewis 5, Corbitt 8, Price 2, Sledge 9, Mossing.
3-points goals: Silverdale 3 (Johnson 2, Gibson); Notre Dame 6 (Cochran 2, Greer, Nelson, Sledge, Lewis)
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)