Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
PORTSMOUTH — The road to winning the SOC I title still runs directly through Notre Dame.
Make no mistake about it.
The Titans (8-0, 6-0 SOC I) made that known in a key win over New Boston on Thursday, switching into the driver’s seat in the league’s standings by a 66-52 final.
In a game that was much closer than the final tally suggests, Notre Dame used its reputable defense to force turnovers, create extra scoring opportunities and, eventually, pull away.
“Coming into the season, in a way, we felt like we were kind of the underdogs after losing Katie [Dettwiller]. People thought we weren’t going to be as good,” senior Taylor Schmidt said. “But we’ve proven ourselves. I think the main thing with us is our defensive intensity. That’s what gets us going. When we’re good on defense, we get it going on offense.”
Schmidt is certainly onto something.
Time and time again, Notre Dame clogged a passing lane, came away with a steal and finished on the other end. Those sequences ultimately led to New Boston’s doom.
But even in the half-court, the Titans handled their business. That charge was led by junior Ava Hassel, who was once again brilliant with the basketball in her hands.
“We keep talking about it … we think we can be better than we ever have been,” Hassel said. “We just have to keep working every day in practice and keep getting better in games. It’s a completely different game than we’ve ever played in our high school careers. But if everybody buys into it, the sky’s the limit.”
To New Boston’s credit, the Tigers (7-3, 5-1 SOC I) gave Notre Dame every bit of the challenge it wanted and then some.
After entering the second quarter trailing 8-7, Sammy Oiler gave the Tigers a 9-8 lead with a pair of free throws that started a 7-0 run as they took a 14-8 lead at the 5:19 mark.
However, with New Boston later leading 17-12, Hassel and Schmidt spearheaded a 7-2 run to tie the score at 19-19. Kenzie Whitley put the Tigers back on top at 21-19 but Notre Dame’s Isabel Cassidy then hit a 3, giving the Titans a one-point lead … one that would last at halftime by a 25-24 score.
“In the first half, we weren’t really hitting shots and defensively, our transition was bad,” Schmidt said. “In the second half, we came out and we knew that if we got on a run, we’d be fine. But we couldn’t let [New Boston] get on a run. So we came out in our 1-3-1 and forced some turnovers, which led to offense.”
After both teams traded punches to begin the third, Claire Dettwiller gave the Titans a 36-31 lead with a putback at the 5:07 mark. Hassel then assisted on a score and hit a 3, pushing the Titans’ lead to 41-33 with 4:27 left.
The Tigers, however, refused to go away without a fight. Lexus and Sammy Oiler were both instrumental in a 9-0 run that gave the Tigers a 42-41 lead.
But in the fourth, Schmidt scored with 7:37 left to put Notre Dame back on top at 47-44 before Hassel connected on another 3-point try, stretching the Titans’ lead to 52-46. From there, the edge would grow to 62-52 before Hassel and company hit four free throws down the stretch.
Hassel led all scorers with 25 points alongside three rebounds and five assists. Schmidt added 11 points, Cassidy had nine points, and Dettwiller ended with eight points and 11 rebounds. Olivia Smith also helped out, scoring seven points, while Lauren Campbell added four points.
Lexus Oiler paced New Boston with 18 points, five rebounds and five assists while Sammy Oiler finished with 13 points, four boards and five assists. Whitley ended the night with eight points and seven rebounds, and Shelby Easter had six points and seven boards.
Notre Dame and New Boston are both back back in action Saturday in non-league play at the University of Rio Grande. The Titans will take on Waterford, a Division IV nemesis whom they’ve met numerous times at the district level.
“We weren’t hitting shots in the first half tonight. But we had to have a short-term memory,” Hassel said. “In the second half, we got out and ran, and picked up the pace a little bit. It’s a good one win for us. Saturday will be a good challenge as well.”
New Boston: 7-17-20-8 — 52
Notre Dame: 8-17-20-21 — 66
New Boston: 20-41 FG, 8-13 FT, 4-13 3pt., 30 rebounds (Whitley 7, Easter 7), 24 turnovers, 11 assists (L. Oiler 5, S. Oiler 5). Scoring: L. Oiler 18, S. Oiler 13, Whitley 8, Easter 7, Hickman 6.
Notre Dame: 25-72 FG, 8-15 FT, 8-32 3pt., 30 rebounds (Dettwiller 11), 4 turnovers, 11 assists (Hassel 5). Scoring: Hassel 25, Schmidt 11, Cassidy 9, Dettwiller 8, Smith 7, Campbell 4, Schaefer 2.