NDA gets challenged before beating McFarland in state semis
By Greg Bates
ASHWAUBENON – The Notre Dame girls’ basketball team has only been challenged a handful of times this season.
Coming into the state tournament, the Tritons were winners of 27 straight games with their closest contest being eight points.
In a Division 2 state semifinal on Friday afternoon, No. 3-seeded McFarland gave No. 2-seeded Notre Dame quite a fight.
The Tritons held just a three-point lead with under one minute remaining, but they were 7-for-8 from the free throw line down the stretch to pull off a 76-70 victory at the Resch Center.
“We did what we needed to do down the stretch and made some really big plays, made some big shots, and I thought our defense was better in the second half that we just didn’t let them — we weren’t trading possessions in the second half as much as we were in the first half,” Notre Dame coach Sara Rohde said. “I think, ultimately, that is what helped us.”
For the two-time defending state champions and No. 1-ranked team in Division 2 to get pushed to the brink and secure the win gives the players some more confidence heading into tomorrow’s state title game.
“I’d say this game just really prepared us for those end of game situations that are close,” said Notre Dame’s lone senior, Hope Barington. “Also, it showed us that we can’t outscore teams if they’re also scoring. It comes down to defense and we’ve really just got to focus on that.”
“Just adding onto that, I think just coming out strong right away, it just proves that if we don’t play our best game, we’re not getting our turnovers, we’re not doing our press,” said Notre Dame point guard Trista Fayta, who had 18 points and eight assists. “It shows that people can stick with us, so just taking that leap in the beginning of the game.”
Notre Dame (28-1) held its biggest lead of the opening half at 17-11, but McFarland went on a 14-5 run to go up 25-22.
Gracie Grzesk — who finished with a team-high 20 points — tied the game late in the first half, but McFarland ended up taking a 40-37 lead into halftime.
The Tritons led by two midway through the second when their defense started creating offensive opportunities. Sydney Whitehouse had back-to-back layups and Barington — who had 15 points — converted a hoop off a steal as Notre Dame took its biggest lead of the game, 64-54, with 7:53 remaining.
The Tritons pressured McFarland into 11 second-half turnovers — eight by Spartans star Teagan Mallegni.
McFarland (26-3) fired back on a 12-5 run to pull within three. In the final 42.2 seconds, Notre Dame was 7-for-8 at the line to ice the victory.
“We talk about loose balls, free throws, rebounds, those really are the three things you need to do in tight game situations in big games,” Rohde said. “We practice free throws a lot, so I’m very proud of the girls that they were (almost) 100% from the free throw line. We try to put them in those situations so they are prepared for that.”
Notre Dame will take on No. 2-ranked Pewaukee in the state championship game on Saturday at 6:35 p.m.
This will be a rematch from the first game of the season in which Pewaukee won 68-67 at home. The Tritons were without Fayta in the opener, and her presence will make a huge difference in the title game.
“I think not being able to play in the first game was hard for me, especially against a good team, so I think I’m ready to play them and I think it will be a good game,” Fayta said.
Top-seeded Pewaukee (28-1) is coming off an 80-63 victory over No. 4-seeded Lakeland in a state semifinal. The Pirates have won 27 games in a row.
The Notre Dame program will be going after its fifth state title in the last 11 years. Rohde, who is in her 12th season as coach, knows how to get her players ready for Championship Saturday.
“I just think our message needs to be, Pewaukee has some amazing shooters as well and our defense is going to have to be a lot better, because they can put the ball in the basket as well,” Rohde said. “We’re going to have to just be ready to play, and I know our girls will be.”