Waite sophomore forward Natasha Howard helped her Indians build a large lead early against Notre Dame and then she refused to relinquish it in a City League semifinal last night.
Howard sparked Waite to a 37-23 halftime advantage with 10 points and eight rebounds. The 6-foot-3 post player then scored 18 more points and grabbed 11 boards to hold off a charge from the Eagles. The Indians (13-6) took out Notre Dame 68-58 before 1,500 fans at Start last night and advance to the City championship against Central Catholic on Saturday.
"In a tough game like this I do like to lead," said Howard, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 19 rebounds. "This was a good game for me but it was my teammates that helped me out and my coaches did too."
Howard scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter when Notre Dame (14-5) had closed within four early in the stanza.
"Natasha is a special player and she displayed a lot of that tonight," Waite coach Manny May said.
Notre Dame junior guard Jasmine Blanton scored 17 of her team-high 22 points in the second half. Blanton came up with a steal and a bucket to make it 47-42 with 7:50 left.
But Howard responded with her only 3-pointer of the game and three minutes later she grabbed an offensive rebound, scored, and was fouled and then converted a free throw to put Waite up 57-46 with 4:43 remaining.
"Mark it down now and put it in stone. She's the most talented player I've ever seen come out of this area," Notre Dame coach Rhett Boyd said. "She's as good as I've ever seen."
Waite improved to 36-2 in City League play over the last three seasons and qualified for the final for the fourth consecutive season. Notre Dame, which outscored Waite 17-10 in the third quarter, had beaten Waite 62-52 on Dec. 5.
"This time we came out more focused and played better defense at the start," May said. Howard had eight points, five rebounds and two blocks in the first quarter. The Indians ended it with a 9-0 run over the last 2 1/2 minutes to take a 15-7 lead.
Waite went up 20-9 when Stephanie Keaton capped a 14-2 spurt with a bucket inside.
Courtney Jackson, who finished with 10 points, hit a 3-pointer with 4:32 left in the first half to give the Indians a 27-13 advantage.
Shantel Perkins, who had 11 points, grabbed an offensive board and scored at the buzzer as Waite claimed a 14-point edge going into the break. Howard had 10 points and eight rebounds in the first half.
"They shot the ball well and got out to that double-digit lead," Boyd said. "We talked about how we've had to face adversity all year and we've constantly had to fight through it and persevere."
The Eagles opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run to close within seven points. Blanton ended the quarter with two straight buckets to make it 47-40.
But Waite settled back in and Kenya Middlebrooks, who had 10 points, hit a jumper to make it 61-48 with 3:31 left.
"We told them to relax and execute on both ends," May said. "We told them to increase the tempo."
Howard's basket inside was her 10th point of the quarter and made it 63-48 with 2:43 left.
"We executed our plays and kept talking to each other," she said.
Waite, which has three straight CL titles, beat Central in the final last season. The championship is at 3 p.m. at Start on Saturday.
"This is what we play for," May said. "We'll be focused and ready."
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