It wasn't the marquee matchup of the week in City League girls basketball, but it was the most pivotal from a league playoff perspective.
And, when Notre Dame Academy concluded its 48-41 victory over visiting Start last night, Eagles coach Rhett Boyd was pleased with his team's execution and foul shooting down the stretch, while counterpart Lorie Pietrasz of Start was dealing with some issues deeper than losing a single game.
Start (6-4, 3-3) had rallied from a seven-point third-quarter deficit to gain a 37-36 lead midway in the fourth, then sputtered thereafter as Notre Dame (8-3, 4-2) regained the lead and iced things with 8-of-9 free throw shooting in the final 1:56.
Sophomore guard Patrice Lalor topped the Eagles with 12 points, Mallory Myers had 11 points and Kristen Kerscher added eight points and 11 rebounds.
The Spartans were paced by 19 points from sophomore guard Keaira "K.K." Marsenburg and 11 from Tiara Arnold.
Notre Dame and Start entered the game as two of the four teams fighting for the fourth and final CL playoff spot at two losses each.
"There's a good seven teams who can win the whole thing in the City League," Boyd said. "We said it at the preseason smoker and it's still true in mid-January. It's very competitive and Start's one of those teams.
"This was a huge win for us. If we go to three losses, it's going to take a certain combination of things happening to get in. We wanted a chance to control our own destiny."
Start forced nine Eagle turnovers in the first quarter while committing just two, but NDA managed to stay within 14-11 after eight minutes against the smaller but quicker Spartans. NDA played turnover free in the second quarter, and a 9-2 run led to a 24-21 halftime edge.
Marsenburg kept her team alive in the third quarter, scoring 10 of Start's 12 points. The Eagles had taken a 28-21 lead on back-to-back buckets from Lalor before a Marsenburg trey at the 4:29 mark sparked the Spartans.
She then sandwiched another 3-pointer and two driving layups around a pair of NDA field goals to bring Start within three. Arnold's two free throws with 9.3 seconds left in the third cut it to 34-33.
After Eagle post player Ciera Seifert scored from inside for a 36-33 lead with 6:13 remaining, an Elisa Hickman 3-pointer and an Arielle Gray free throw gave Start its last lead with 3:59 left.
Lalor put NDA up for good 13 seconds later on an eight-foot banker, and Kerscher's 12-footer at the 2:39 mark made it 40-37.
The back-breaker came with 1:56 left when Hickman fouled Eagle guard Marissa Caputo in the act of a 3-point attempt. Caputo, scoreless in the game to that point, calmly swished all three free throws, then converted both ends of a bonus chance with 1:02 left for a 45-37 edge.
"I'll be real honest," Pietrasz said, "we are a very jealous team. Whenever we're in a panic situation, they'll pull it together. But the minute it's tied or we go in the lead, we go back to that individual game.
"It's killed us all year and, until they realize they can't do it, that's what's going to happen. We have some players who don't pass to other players, and they haven't learned."
Notre Dame was 18 of 37 from the field, 11 of 15 from the line, and outrebounded Start 32-24. The Spartans were 15 of 48 from the field, including a 6-of-16 effort on 3-pointers, and were 5 of 11 from the line. They committed 10 turnovers to Notre Dame's 18.
"We were able to keep their guards on the perimeter," Boyd said of the stretch run. "That was our goal coming in. Make them take 22, 23, 24-footers rather than three-footers, because they're very good at penetrating and breaking your defense down."
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Stephany Johnson scored 18 points, Tiara Roberts added 14 and Erin Cassidy had 10 to lead Bowsher to a 56-42 girls City League basketball victory over visiting Clay.
Lauren Taylor paced Clay with 12 points.
The Rebels improved to 7-5 overall and 4-2 in the league. Clay dropped to 3-7, 3-2.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC 72,
Central blanked Rogers 22-0 in the first quarter and coasted to victory as Mallory Strall scored 15 points, followed by Brianna Jones with 11 and Ellen Herman with 10.
SCOTT 52, WHITMER 25
Whitmer (3-8, 2-4) couldn't locate the basket in the first quarter and by the time the Panthers did, Scott held a 25-4 lead at the intermission.
Shay Powell tossed in 15 points for the Bulldogs (8-3, 5-0).
ST. URSULA 75, LIBBEY 34
Allison Florian scored 13 points and Alison Schloz added 12 as the Arrows won on the road.
Kadyia Gregory led the Cowboys with 15.