THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Having advanced as far in tournament play as any team in school history, Notre Dame will have a familiar opponent for Division I girls basketball regional final at Norwalk.
Notre Dame (21-4) will take on a past state champion in Wadsworth (22-3), which captured a D-I title in 1997, at noon Saturday.
The Eagles and Grizzlies met Jan. 16 in the Classic In The Country invitational at Berlin Hiland High School. In that game, Notre Dame led by as much as 14 points in the third quarter before being outscored 24-12 in the fourth and eventually losing 57-53.
Eagles seniors Demy Whitaker and Michelle Holmes were solid in defeat, with Whitaker mixing five 3-pointers into a game-high 21-point performance, and Holmes adding 14 points and 10 rebounds.
But perhaps the difference in that game was that Notre Dame point guard Cat Wells, had an off game. She hit just 1-of-10 shots from the field, including 0-for-5 on 3 pointers, and ended with more turnovers (five) than points (four).
"Obviously we're familiar with each other, so that's kind of nice instead of playing a brand new team," fourth-year Eagles coach Travis Galloway said. "We're excited to keep moving on. But the task at hand will be a difficult. Hopefully we can keep moving on and do something very special."
Galloway knows the strengths of Notre Dame's next foe.
"[The Grizzlies] do a great job of pushing the tempo up and pushing the ball up and down the floor," Galloway said. "They play about eight or nine kids, and they're all like pretty much the same player. They're all about 5-8 or 5-9 and can shoot the 3-pointer."
Galloway sees an essential key if his team is to win the rematch.
"It's a game where, if we rebound and defend the way we're capable of, we have a pretty good chance," he said. "If not, we're going to be in a dogfight trying to hold off a feisty team.
"We need to communicate on our back screens. We did a horrible job of talking on screening action, and that's what led to their comeback. We also had some silly, unforced turnovers, and all of a sudden the momentum switched. We tried to regain it but we just never did."
The good news for the Eagles is that they played well enough to lead Wadsworth 41-33 after three quarters, and that Wells is not likely to have another game like that. But Galloway sees another crucial factor from the Jan. 16 loss.
The Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion Eagles, who won a district final 54-43 over Northern Lakes League champion Northview (21-2) , added a regional semifinal win over NLL runner-up Perrysburg 44-28 .
Their last regional appearance came 23 years ago.
Wells led the Eagles in the last two victories, scoring 17 points against Northview and 16 versus Perrysburg.
"I'm really excited about getting to the regional final," Well said. "We've just got to come out and keep our same focus and our same intensity [since tourney began]."
Joining veteran seniors Wells, Whitaker, Holmes and Ashley Kynard in the starting five will be sophomore Jayda Worthy. Expected to provide the bulk of the help off the bench will be senior guard Tylar Young and freshman forward Kaayla McIntyre.
The bench depth may prove key in the rematch with Wadsworth, and the Grizzlies prefer an up-tempo pace and usually play eight or nine players.
Leading the way for Wadsworth are 5-10 senior wings Jessie Gearhart 11.1 points per game), and Kara Long (11.0 points, 4.9 rebounds).
The Grizzlies' point guard is 5-7 junior Rachel Goddard, and the starting five is rounded out by 5-9 sophomore Peyton Booth and 5-6 senior Christy Cingel.
In addition to its 1997 state title, Wadsworth has been three state final-four appearances since (1998, 1999, 2006).
The Suburban League champions, who finished a perfect 14-0 in league play, are coached by Andy Booth, who is 141-30 in seven seasons there.
For Notre Dame, Wells is averaging 10.7 points and 7.1 assists per game, Holmes contributes 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds, and the sharpshooting Whitaker adds 10.7 points on 41 percent (41-of-101) shooting from 3-point range. Kynard adds 5.6 points, and Worthy has averaged 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.
"Being this close we're just going to give it our all," said Whitaker, a first-team All-Ohio soccer player who will play that sport in college. "We have one more game to get to what we've been trying to accomplishment all year.
"If we just keep doing what we're doing, and keep playing together and giving it everything we've got, there's no doubt we can get to state. "This could be my last time playing basketball, and I'm just going to give it my all and put everything on the line."
"It feels so good," Holmes said of reaching the regional final. "We have five seniors and we all want it so bad. I'm not ready for the season to end, because my high school career will be over.
"I want to go out on a good note. I don't want to go into the locker room crying sad tears. I want them to be happy tears with a state championship."
Notre Dame also swept through TRAC play at 14-0. All four of the Eagles' losses have come against strong out-of-area teams.
In addition to the Wadsworth loss, the Eagles fell 54-39 to unbeaten, top-ranked D-I power Reynoldsburg in their season-opener at Owens Community College, dropped a 61-55 decision to eighth-ranked Middleburg Heights Midpark at the Twinsburg Invitational, and were defeated 49-44 at Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown. a three-time defending state champion in Division II.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade