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For nearly three full quarters of Wednesday night's City League girls basketball semifinals against Start, Notre Dame gave the favored seventh-ranked Spartans basically an even battle.
That's when the Eagles hit a wall — namely Start's gritty defense — and fell 47-34 at the Waite Field House.
Notre Dame (15-4) took its first lead of the game (since 2-0 early) on Victoria McDuffie's reverse layup, a basket that made it 30-29 with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
But, the Eagles were stonewalled and held scoreless for the next 6:49. By then, Start, which had struggled offensively throughout, managed to find enough offense to push its lead to nine points.
"We just started making some shots," Start coach Bob Brown said of his team's timely fourth-quarter output. "We struggled offensively. They're a great defensive team, and Travis does a great job coaching. They take away our strengths.
"We didn't finish for a while and, luckily, we played great defense ourselves. That kept us in the game. We talked about playing great defense as the only way we had a shot, and we did that. We held a pretty good team to 34 points. That's pretty good."
Jaymie Jackson, who scored six of her seven points during the Spartans' 15-4 fourth-quarter finish, made it 39-30 on short bank shot with 3:47 remaining.
Alex Adamski finally ended the drought for Notre Dame, scoring off a mid-court feed from Cat Wells to make it 39-32 with 3:29 to play. But that was as close as the Eagles would get.
The win gives Start a rematch with sixth-ranked Waite (17-2), which defeated the Spartans 66-46 in league play on Feb. 3.
Freshman guard Charon Sweeney topped Start with 11 points, including nine in the first quarter to stake the Spartans to a 10-4 lead. Maleeka Kynard was next with nine points, and Jaime Williams matched Jackson with seven. Azia Bishop had six points and 13 rebounds for Start.
"We just weren't knocking down shots," Kynard said. "Our defense wasn't as good as we usually play, but we picked it up in the fourth quarter.
"It was nice to pull away because we were really struggling and frustrated that we couldn't make shots. Once we figured out that our defense was the way to start winning the game, we got it back together."
The Eagles were led by Demy Whitaker with 10 points, Wells had eight, and Adamski added six.
Like their first meeting with the Eagles — a 60-50 win at Notre Dame on Feb. 1 — the Spartans seemed in control early on.
In that meeting they watched a 15-point lead disappear as ND tied the game early in the fourth quarter. This time, a 12-point Start lead late in the second quarter dwindled to 25-19 after Wells' three-point play 1.9 seconds before halftime.
The Eagles kept pecking away until McDuffie's go-ahead bucket late in the third. Start tied it on a Jackson free throw, then went up for good on Ce'Dra Evans' layup on a feed from Sweeney to close the third.
"I think we hit the same wall we started the game with," said Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway, whose team missed 11 of its first 13 field-goal attempts in the game.
"We had some shots that normally we make rim out, and we had a couple of untimely turnovers in that stretch, and they capitalized. They're a tough team to guard for 32 minutes, and that's kind of what showed up."
Start was 17-of-42 from the field, 12-of-19 from the line, and dominated the boards 39-22. The Spartans were hindered by 24 turnovers, but forced 20.
Notre Dame was 13-of-45 from the field and 5-of-9 from the line.
"We've got to bring our A-game and shoot the ball well to beat Waite," Brown said. "This is a tough place to shoot the ball. We've struggled here every time we've ever played here.
"Hopefully, we can make some shots, and defensively, if we play like we did tonight, we're at least going to give them a ballgame."
— Steve Junga