The Whitmer girls basketball team entered Thursday night's meeting with seventh-ranked Notre Dame believing the previously impossible was possible.
Two-time defending Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion Notre Dame arrived at Whitmer riding a 34-game TRAC win streak dating back three years. The Eagles won the first two TRAC titles by posting 14-0 conference records and owned a 6-0 conference mark this season.
Whitmer slammed the brakes on Notre Dame's string of conference wins by posting a 51-47 upset victory on its home court before a spirited Panthers crowd.
Keshyra McCarver played the lead role for Whitmer (10-3, 3-2 TRAC) in knocking off Notre Dame (9-3, 6-1). She scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the biggest win of her four-year career.
"Honestly, I feel like I won a state championship," said a teary-eyed McCarver. "I've been wanting to beat this team for years and years. This is a really big thing, and I'm so happy and I'm proud of my team."
McCarver got the Panthers going by making what seemed like tough shot after tough shot during the first half to keep pace with the Eagles. She scored 14 of Whitmer's 21 points before halftime.
The rest of the Panthers seemed to follow McCarver's lead and never backed down, even after trailing for most of the first half and going into the locker room down 27-21.
Samantha Meinen also scored in double figures for Whitmer, finishing with 12 points. Tricia Kimmel added eight, including a pair of 3-pointers, and Abigial Sarabia finished with five, including a key 3-pointer early in the third quarter.
The Panthers made 13 of 16 free throws, with McCarver recording a 7-for-7 effort.
"We were pretty excited in the locker room," Whitmer coach Sean Flemmings said, moments after addressing his team following the game. "We tried to really keep things in perspective, but, my goodness, this is huge. It's as big [a win] as we've had.
"I've been a part of this program, on and off, for 20 years, and this is big as I've seen. This was a statement victory for our program."
The two teams entered the fourth quarter with the score tied at 36. McCarver opened the final period with a driving layup to give the Panthers a 38-36 lead. More significantly, it was a clear sign the Panthers weren't going away easily during the final eight minutes.
With the scored tied at 47, McCarver converted a three-point play with 27.5 seconds left in the game for the eventual game-deciding points.
Kaayla McIntyre and Tierra Floyd combined for 37 points to lead Notre Dame. McIntyre pumped in a team-high 20 points and Floyd finished with 17. Christiana Jefferson added seven points on a night the Eagles were outplayed in the frontcourt by the Panthers.
"They did a great job of making plays," Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway said. "When I thought we had them on the ropes a few times, they'd make a play or we might have a bad possession here or there. To their credit, they hung around and made big-time plays down the stretch."
Notre Dame played the game without top forward Jayda Worthy (knee), a six-foot senior, who is expected to return to the court next week after missing a month of action.
The Eagles, who defeated the Panthers rather easily earlier in the season, aren't blaming the loss on not having Worthy the second time around against Whitmer.
"It affects our team, but at the end of the day, you have to roll with what you have," Galloway said. "She's been out for a while now. We have to do a better job as a group of coaches and a better job as a group of players on getting better.
As far as the conference win streak, it was good while it lasted, Galloway said.
"We know we've got work to do and our players know that, so it's back to work tomorrow."
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