Notre Dame’s Phifer Gymnasium might as well have been a drag strip Tuesday night for both the girls and boys basketball programs.
Each squad burned high-octane fuel in decisive quarters of play and each punched their tickets to a state basketball tournament with impressive runs.
The boys jumped all over visiting CAK with a 26-point first quarter to produce a 76-56 win to secure a berth in the Division-II East region basketball semifinals Friday night against Chattanooga Christian, a 54-51 winner over Knoxville Grace.
The wins guarantee both locals a berth in the Division-II state tournament. For Notre Dame, it will be a first trip to a state tournament since Bob Brown led the 1973 Irish to the state semifinals.
The girls, meanwhile, overcame a slow start before blitzing King’s Academy with a 27-point second quarter en route to a 52-34 triumph to gain their historic entry into the state tourney field.
The Lady Irish will play CAK on Friday in the semifinals after the Lady Warriors dropped Silverdale Academy last night, 73-53. It will be the Lady Irish’s first-ever state tournament trip.
“First time in school history,” exclaimed sophomore Lady Irish guard Kate Ford. “I’m just so excited for this team and my teammates. It’s really a culmination of a lot of hard work for all of us, and I’m just so happy to be a part of it.”
Notre Dame girls 52, King’s Academy 34: The Lady Irish not only made history of the visiting Lady Lions with a 27-5 second-quarter run, they made history with the win.
“We knew it would be a four quarter game because King is such a scrappy team. It was a good test for us because of all the pressure they put on the ball. It was a do-or-die game for us, and I couldn’t be happier with the way the girls rose to the occasion,” said Notre Dame coach Jason Hill.
There was no one better suited to handle the intense defensive pressure applied by the Lady Lions than the sophomore guard Ford. Not only did she score a game-high 23 points, making 14 of 15 free throws on the night, and add eight rebounds to the resume, she did her best Harlem Globetrotter dribbling impression to offset the defensive pressure applied.
“She’s a sophomore and she is young and still learning, but this was the type of game we needed her and she stepped up. She will learn that we don’t need as much dribbling from her as we got tonight, but it was nice knowing the ball was in her hands.
Especially when it came time to foul us and she is out there hitting 14 free throws down the stretch,” Hill praised.
Notre Dame (22-9) found itself down 10-9 after the first quarter, but went on a run that was a thing of beauty. The lady Irish reeled off nine straight points to open the quarter, took a small breath while King’s Academy got a bucket, and then strung together 15 more straight points for a 33-12 lead. Ford had 12 points in the two runs and District hero Averie Sheppard added seven.
The third and fourth quarters got a little sloppy and King’s Academy got off a 9-0 run at one point to pull it to within 14 points, but Ford hit all six of her freebies in the final period to stave off any hope of a comeback.
Jennifer Sullivan, just an 8th-grader, got 14 of her 18 points in the final half to spark the scrappy Lady Lions. Fellow 8th-grader Kaylee Yates added another 12 and the future is definitely promising for the King’s Academy squad.
Aside from Ford’s big night, Sheppard chipped in 12 points and Mackenzie Johnson was good for eight points 12 rebounds.
Notre Dame boys 76, CAK 56: It was only fitting that the Irish starting five sat and listened as the individual starters were announced pregame before all standing together and running out as one unit. They then proceeded to run the visiting Warriors completely out of the gym.
Notre Dame (21-11) canned five of six 3-point attempts, and 10 of 13 overall shots in the first period that left CAK completely stunned in a 26-11 blitz.
“We definitely got it going tonight,” said guard Derwin Lewis, who hit three of the five treys in the first. “We just came out and got it done. I’m not sure if the offense fed off the defense or it was the other way around, but we got after it on both ends.”
“It’s just hard to compete against that kind of shooting. It made us have to play a perfect game and we were far from perfect tonight,” said CAK coach Shane Wells.
Notre Dame coach Jonathan Adams was as shocked as anyone with the shooting, but knew his squad was ready to get it done on the defensive end of the floor.
“Obviously that’s one of the best quarters we have had this year. We are at our best when we play relaxed and have fun, but it’s the defense that gets it done for us. They have a great shooting team and we knew that, so it was important for us to guard them,” said Adams.
As for the air raid it dropped from behind the arc, hitting 12 of 17 3’s in the game: “It happens sometimes. Sometimes it happens against you and sometimes for you. Shooting like that is a bonus, but playing defense is something you can bank every night.”
Notre Dame forced 23 turnovers from the Warriors and forced them into 38 percent shooting through the first three quarters (11 of 29) as the lead was 50-32 heading into a free-for-all fourth in which the two teams combined for 50 points.
Notre Dame hit on 20 of 26 shots in the first and fourth quarters combined to put up 52 of its 76 point total. They hit six treys in each half.
Tank Nelson led the scoring with 20 points, including 12 in the fourth and connected on three 3s. Lewis had 18, including the dagger to the heart start with nine in the opening period.
Akil Sledge and CJ Greer took turns going inside-out to thoroughly frustrate CAK. Sledge had 12 points and assisted on three of treys when the ball came inside to him, and Greer had 11 points, getting four assists to set up open 3s.
“When you get the kind of balance we had tonight, when guys are finding open shooters like we did, it’s a fun game,” Adams added.
King’s Academy 10 5 13 6 -- 34
Notre Dame 9 27 8 8 -- 52
KING’S ACADEMY (34) – Yates 12, Sullivan 18, Bocknight, Norris 2, Jackson, Timmerman 2, Hamilton, McCollister.
NOTRE DAME (52) – Ford 23, Sheppard 12, Brown 1, Ball 5, Raabe, Sims, Rabuano 2, Sparks 1, Johnson 8,Bird.
3-point goals: King 0; Notre Dame 4 (Sheppard 2, Ball, Ford)
CAK 11 10 11 24 -- 56
Notre Dame 26 10 14 26 -- 76
CAK (56) – Etherton 10, Stoutfor 12, Pryor 2, Davis 2, Heitzman 13, Pteres, Ozmert 13, Parker 2, Brady, Bristow, Reesun 2, Hicks, Morris.
NOTRE DAME (76) – Jones, Nelson 20, Greer 11, Cochran 6, Lewis 18, Corbitt 6, Price, Sledge 12, Turley 3, Mossing, Filhauer.
3-point goals: CAK 5 (Etherton 2, Stoutfor 2, Ozmert); Notre Dame 12 (Lewis 3, Nelson 3, Cochran 2, Sledge 2, Greer).
(Contact James Beach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @beachnut1134)