Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
JACKSON — For almost a year now, Notre Dame has had one thing on its mind … revenge.
On March 7, 2019, Peebles handed the Titans a season-ending 46-42 loss in a Division IV regional semifinal — breaking multiple hearts in the process.
Thursday night, it was Notre Dame’s turn to return the favor.
Behind a one-of-a-kind defensive performance from senior Olivia Smith, a legendary night on the glass from Claire Dettwiller, and a total team effort, the Titans (24-2) pulled out a 36-30 victory over the Indians … earning their first-ever trip to a regional final.
“We wanted revenge from last year because we knew we didn’t play our best, which hurt us,” Notre Dame senior Taylor Schmidt said. “We sort of felt like the underdog because no one expected us to win, as opposed to last year when we felt we should have.
“We’ve heard all year about how Peebles is better than us so that put a chip on our shoulder to want this even more. We put a lot of emphasis on limiting Jacey [Justice] and stopping [Tatum Arey] and [Lilly Gray] from rebounding. We executed great tonight.”
Execution. That’s a word that perfectly defines Notre Dame’s performance as a whole … especially in the case of Smith.
All year long, she’s been the Titans’ best on-ball defender. But Thursday, she rose her game to the next level.
Smith held Peebles’ Jacey Justice, the Division IV District Player of the Year, to 10 points … Justice came in averaging 26.5 … and held her scoreless throughout the entire first eight minutes.
“I guess the key to it all was that I had to be better than last year,” Smith said. “It’s expected this year. There are countless screens that are being set [for Justice], so many plays that are being ran for her … and to be better than last year and to do what I can for my team to get the win … I left everything on the court tonight.”
Meanwhile, Dettwiller was having a career night on the glass — both offensively and defensively.
The 6-foot junior ended the night with 20 rebounds, compared to Peebles’ team total of 23.
“I knew that my job was to get boards,” Dettwiller said. “I had to keep [Gray] off the boards. That was my job. I just wanted to do everything I could for my team to get the win.”
Notre Dame’s Ava Hassel started the night’s scoring with a 3-point field goal at the 6:42 mark in the first quarter. Arey then put Peebles on the board with a pair of free throws before giving the Indians (21-4) a 6-5 lead with 2:53 left.
Peebles then took an 8-6 lead, after Beekman scored again, into the second.
The Indians’ advantage swelled to 13-8 when Justice hit a triple, her first score of the night, at the 6:08 mark. But that’s when Dettwiller, Lauren Campbell and Ava Hassel combined to give the Titans a 14-13 lead with 5:05 remaining in the first half — and Notre Dame never trailed again.
“For this program and this team, it’s really special,” Smith said. “You should’ve seen this week in practice … the hunger, the vision and the revenge that we really wanted to get. No one thought we could do it. We certainly proved them wrong tonight.”
After enjoying a 20-14 lead at halftime, Hassel scored five straight points to begin the third quarter to give Notre Dame its largest lead of the night at 25-14.
But Peebles slowly grinded its way back into the ballgame as Arey and Justice nailed back-to-back buckets, cutting the deficit to 25-18 heading into the fourth.
After the two teams traded punches in the fourth, Justice hit three consecutive free throws with 2:10 remaining, trimming ND’s lead to 30-27.
But that was as close as the Indians came to climbing out of the hole they had dug. Notre Dame hit its free throws down the stretch, and slammed the door shut on a regional semifinal win.
“When we got into the locker room, we were just screaming and jumping on top of each other,” Schmidt said, smiling. “I was just so happy for Claire. Those rebounds are hustle plays, they’re game-changers. Then Olivia holding Jacey to 10, that’s really something to be proud of.”
Hassel led all scorers with 12 points. Detwiller added eight points and 20 rebounds while Schmidt had seven points.
Justice had 10 points for Peebles, followed by six points from Arey.
Notre Dame moves onto a Division IV regional final against Fort Frye at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at Pickerington North High School.
The Cadets beat Berne Union by a 37-28 final on Thursday.
“It’s still one game at a time,” Smith said. “That’s the most important step. I was telling our assistant coach, Matt Mader, that right now, we want to get ‘Decade of Dominance’ shirts. I told him that I wanted to put [on the shirt] that we made it to the Elite Eight. Now I want to put on there that we made it to the Final Four. But just one game at a time.”
Notre Dame: 6-14-5-11 — 36
Peebles: 8-6-4-12 — 30
Notre Dame: 10-38 FG, 13-25 FT, 3-16 3pt., 35 rebounds (Dettwiller 20), 13 turnovers, 5 assists (Schmidt 3). Scoring: Hassel 12, Dettwiller 8, Schmidt 7, Campbell 4, Schaefer 3, Smith 2.
Peebles: 9-30 FG, 11-19 FT, 1-4 3pt., 23 rebounds (Gray 5), 15 turnovers, 2 assists (Justice 1, Wilkinson 1). Scoring: Justice 10, Arey 8, Beekman 5, Gray 4, Wilkinson 3.