Playing at home and gaining momentum as the game wore on, Central Catholic appeared to have the rival Notre Dame Eagles right where it wanted them Thursday night.
But the visiting Eagles were rescued in the nick of time by junior sub Jayda Worthy, who scored all seven of her points in the final quarter to lift Notre Dame to a 47-44 Three Rivers Athletic Conference girls basketball victory at the Sullivan Center.
“Jayda was a big part of that,” Eagles coach Travis Galloway said of his team surviving Central’s rally. “She’s been in those big rivalry games before, where a lot of our others girls haven’t. She’s been there when the other team’s making that big push and their crowd is behind them.
“She was a calming influence. She made some plays scoring the ball, she found the right people to get the ball to, and she rebounded and defended.”
The 5-foot-11 Worthy, who was part of Notre Dame’s run to the Division I state semifinals last season, was back in action for the first time since reinjuring her left knee in a Dec. 22 loss against Rogers.
At that point, she had only played in two of the Eagles’ first eight games after rehabbing from surgery to repair torn meniscus.
But Worthy showed no ill effects when the game was on the line. Her rebound and putback basket to open the fourth quarter, plus a free throw 34 seconds later got Notre Dame back on top, 35-33.
Her next bucket gave the Eagles a 37-35 lead, and her final basket on a driving layup provided a 43-40 edge with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining, a lead ND did not relinquish.
Worthy also grabbed four of Notre Dame’s nine fourth-quarter rebounds.
“I’m happy with anything I can do to help our team win,” Worthy said. “It may not be scoring. Some games it might be playing defense or passing the ball to the right spot.
“After I dinged [the knee Dec. 22], I was a little worried about it. But you can’t worry about that during the game. You’ve got to just focus on what you’ve got to do to help the team win.”
The loss by Central (7-4, 5-2 TRAC) denied the Irish an opportunity to forge a three-way tie for first place in the TRAC with Notre Dame and Findlay. Instead, the defending champion Eagles (10-3, 7-0) stayed a perfect 21-0 through one-and-a-half seasons in conference play.
“Anytime you win on the road in the league, especially against a rival, you feel fortunate,” Galloway said, “regardless of the score.”
The Eagles’ victory spoiled the solid second-half work of Central’s 5-3 sophomore backup guard Keytha Foreman, who rallied the Irish from a 30-19 deficit early in the third quarter to a 33-32 edge entering the fourth.
“We wanted to push the ball more, and we weren’t getting that push,” Central coach Marty McGurk said. “Keytha Foreman got the ball and went north and south, not east and west.
“She created some easy opportunities for us, either by kicking the ball back out or taking it herself.”
Foreman hit 3-pointers at the 5:17 and 2:05 marks of the third quarter and went 6 for 6 at the foul line to score 12 of her game-high 14 points in a span of four minutes.
Two Foreman free throws got the Irish within 32-31, and Sydni Harmon capped Central’s 14-2 run with a bucket for a one-point edge with 59 seconds left in the third.
The last Irish lead (40-39) came with 3:07 remaining when Demi Russell hit one of two free throws.
Eagle sophomore Tierra Floyd (12 points) answered with a layup just 14 seconds later to put ND up for good.
Notre Dame was 19 of 35 from the field, 6 of 11 at the line, and committed 22 turnovers. Kaayla McIntyre added six points and six rebounds for the Eagles.
“We defended well and we rebounded the ball well,” McGurk said. “What I didn’t like was the way we ran our half-court offense. When the times comes where you have to run half-court, you’ve got to be disciplined enough to do it. I thought, at times, the half-court offense hurt us.”
Central was 13 of 33 from the field, 15 of 19 from the line, had 20 turnovers, and matched Notre Dame’s 21 rebounds.
Michelle Murnen had 12 points for the Irish, including six in the final quarter, and Deonna Murdock added six points.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.