COLUMBUS — Notre Dame gave second-ranked Kettering Fairmont all it could handle in Friday night’s Division I girls basketball state semifinal.
But the more experienced Firebirds (26-1), who were playing in their fourth straight state semifinal, seized control down the stretch and took a 37-31 victory before a crowd of 5,635 at the Schottenstein Center.
Fairmont senior guard Chelsea Welch sparked her team over the game’s final 5 minutes, 52 seconds, hitting all eight of her free throws to finish with 10 points. Teammate Kathryn Westbeld topped the Firebirds with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“We hung in there and scrapped but, unfortunately, we didn’t get the job done.” said Eagles coach Travis Galloway, whose team led by a point with seven minutes to play. “When it came down to the middle of the fourth quarter, they had some players step up and make plays, and we just came up short.”
PHOTO GALLERY: click here to view images
The unranked Eagles (25-4), who had a 19-game winning streak snapped, were led by junior forward Jayda Worthy’s 15 points, plus 10 points and eight rebounds from sophomore forward Kaayla McIntyre.
Notre Dame also fell last season to Fairmont in the state semifinals, losing 54-45.
“Give credit to Notre Dame,” Fairmont coach Tim Cogan said. “They did a phenomenal job with a young group of kids. They’re big, and they took advantage of taking time off the clock and found ways to stay in the game. “It was a great game, and I’m glad we came out with the win.”
Fairmont will face top-ranked, two-time defending state champion Twinsburg (29-0) in today’s 8:30 p.m. title game. Twinsburg defeated Fairmont in both the 2011 and 2012 D-I finals.
In the opening half, Notre Dame was able to run its offense efficiently enough to take a 19-16 lead to the break.
Down 12-11 after one quarter, the Eagles eventually took advantage of Fairmont’s cold (7 of 20) first-half shooting from the field and closed the second quarter with a 6-2 run over the final 2:58.
They did this despite getting no points on 0-for-5 shooting in the game from 6-foot sophomore guard Tierra Floyd, who has been leading the Eagles’ charge in tourney play along with Worthy.
“They were very physical on her, and they busted through every screen that we set for her,” Galloway said of Floyd being blanked. “They kind of got her out of her rhythm a little bit right away. It was just one of those nights for her that she probably won’t have very often. All of it’s credited to their defense.”
Floyd had fired in 20 points in a regional final victory over Wadsworth.
Worthy tallied seven of her points in the opening half, and McIntytre was able to effectively counter the Firebirds’ imposing 1-2 punch of 6-2 junior forwards Kathryn Westbeld and Makayla Waterman (nine points) after the opening quarter, when they scored 12 of their combined 20 points.
“I should’ve stepped up a little more defensively,” McIntyre said, “but I think I left it all on the floor.”
The Firebirds regrouped at halftime and came out with a more complete third quarter, using a 9-2 run to grab a 25-21 lead.
Eagles sophomore guard Christiana Jefferson (six points) closed the quarter with a 10-foot bank shot to get Notre Dame back within two points entering the fourth.
Worthy hit one of two free throws to open the final quarter, then drove the left baseline for a bucket to give Notre Dame its last lead at 26-25 with seven minutes left.
“It was a good experience,” Worthy said. “People didn’t think we’d be down here, and I’m so proud of my team for pushing through all of that. “Our coaches asked us to leave it all on the floor, and I think we did. “They’re a veteran team that’s been down here four times, and they just executed at the end more than we did.”
Waterman’s free throw with 6:35 to play tied the game, Welch added four free throws, Westbeld’s scored on a back-door layup, and two more Welch free throws gave Fairmont its biggest lead of the game at 34-26 with 53.7 seconds remaining.
Worthy nailed a 3-pointer, then scored a transition bucket with 29 secondsleft to make it 34-31, but the Eagles got no closer.
“Being ahead of a team in the fourth quarter that’s been down here four straight years is very good,” Galloway said of his team, which started a senior, a junior and three sophomores. “I’m happy with the way we stuck together and hung in there, especially when it was such a hard game offensively to get into any kind of rhythm or flow.”
Notre Dame was 14 of 38 (37 percent) from the field, 2 of 3 at the line, and committed 14 turnovers.
The Firebirds were 12 of 33 (36 percent) from the field, 12 of 16 at the line, outrebounded the Eagles 26-22, and committed 12 turnovers.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade