The final margin doesn’t fully convey the sheer intensity displayed on the court. Year in and year out these are among the best teams that Ohio girl’s basketball has to offer and it is highly likely that they will meet again.
“It was another typical CJ game,” Cougar head coach Dante Harlan smiled. “You know that both teams are going to come out and play hard. You simply have to compete. The team that does so the hardest nine times out of ten will win. Today, that was my team.”
The last Mt. Notre Dame state tournament loss was to the Eagles, 49-38, in the 2005 state final. It has been a very competitive series.
This time around, CJ (10-2, 8-0 GGCL-Grey) had played a game just 24 hours earlier, winning 59-43 against Cincinnati McNicholas. Sunday’s contest against the Cougars was moved to Wright State in order to avoid a futile competition with the BCS championship game on Monday night.
Both teams employed tough man-to-man defenses throughout, mixing in full-court man pressure when appropriate. But mostly this was a great match up between two of the finest point guards in the midwest, Tiera Stephen (CJ) and Ashley Fowler (ND). Known for their stingy defense and precision passing they frequently dominated play.
“Fowler had a very nice game for them,” CJ head coach Marc Greenberg pointed out. “She made a couple of key shots when we made that run. She is a fine player.
“As a team they shot a tremendous percentage, but a lot of it was mostly contested shots. We had them for 26-48 overall and 4-10 from behind the three-point line. You aren’t going to beat a lot of teams when they shoot like that.”
It was obvious early that the players had thought a lot about this game. Nerves in conjunction with tough defense caused an uncharacteristic series of first quarter turnovers that spared neither squad.
Fowler controlled the opening period by easily beating the press, passing out 4 assists, and forcing CJ to eventually put their best defender on her. Teammate Gabby Smith scored three times from the field and the first quarter score was 22-10, Mt. Notre Dame.
“We have four solid scorers on offense.” Harlan said, “and Ashley tends to get overlooked. People don’t realize how valuable she is to us. But Mark (Greenberg) did the right thing. He tried to take her out of the game by putting Tiera (Stephen), who very well might be the best defender in the state, on her. I told her that might happen and it did.”
In the second stanza, the Eagles maintained their composure and stopped the bleeding with better ball handling and boxing out in the lane. Not accustomed to being behind they fought back valiantly. Even so, at halftime CJ was still trailing 35-21 and the hometown faithful were openly concerned.
After the break, Stephen was able to get the ball inside more against the stingy Notre Dame defense and Warfield was able to help cut the deficit to 6. But late in the fourth quarter the battle tested Cougars were able to make adjustments and even extend their lead with a 10-2 run.
The final score was Cincinnati Notre Dame 63, Chaminade-Julienne 48.
Channing Hillman led all scorers with 22 points (5 rebounds, 1 assist). Gabby Smith (16 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists) and Tia McBride (10 points, 4 rebounds) each scored in double figures for Mt. Notre Dame. Kendall Hackney (8 points), Catherine Reynolds (3 points), and Ashley Fowler (4 points, 8 assists, 2 rebounds) rounded out the scoring.
Hillman will attend the University of Texas at El Paso on a full-ride in the fall. McBride will play her college ball at Georgetown.
India Warfield (14 points, 8 rebounds) and Samarie Walker (14 points, 6 rebounds) each scored in double figures for the Eagles. Shene Fleming (8 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds), Rachel Chandler (5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), and Tiera Stephen (4 points, 8 assists) also contributed to the CJ cause.
Warfield has signed a letter of intent to play at St. Louis University . Chandler has committed to Central Connecticut St., and Stevens will play college ball at Louisville.
“I never felt like we were out of it,” Greenberg said afterwards. “If we had played another quarter we would have still been right there in the game. We told the kids at halftime that every possession is its own thing and to not look so much at the scoreboard. Hopefully one possession at a time we would be able to get back where we needed to go.
“We got their lead down to six and we even had the ball, but we weren’t quite able to capitalize. Worse we had two straight empty possessions due to turnovers. Tyesha Jones had one, and Samarie Walker had another one and all of a sudden we were down 10 instead of 6. You can dig a hole for yourself that quick.”
CJ has a lot of respect for the Cougars.
“We were down like we were today against Long Beach Poly (#4, USA Today) in New Mexico (the T-Mobile Invitational in Albuquerque). We felt like we were still in that game, too.
“They (ND) are simply a great team. There is no shame in losing to Mt. Notre Dame, and that is why we scheduled it. I think both teams can come out of this contest thinking that they have gotten better. You take the risk that you are going to get beat, but that is just the way it is.”
Mt. Notre Dame has a lot of respect for the Eagles.
“The name Chaminade-Julienne speaks for itself,” Harlan said. “It’s a program that has a rich tradition of winning and I have tremendous respect for them. In many ways we have tried to pattern our program on the way that they do things. If you watch their kids they play hard. They have the same coaching philosophy that we do: you have to defend, rebound, and take care of the ball.
“I told my kids to take it as a personal challenge. We’re going to do what we do best and try to impose our will on them and they will try to do the same thing. We wanted to get out and run the court and if their conditioning allowed them to run with us then they would be able to keep up. If not then hopefully we would get some easy baskets.
“It was typical CJ,” Harlan continued. “I told the girls that they weren’t going to stop coming at us. At this stage of the season we needed to be challenged and they certainly did that. I’m pretty happy with how things worked out for us.”
Both teams will appear in the Classic in the Country in Berlin, Ohio over the Martin Luther King weekend. Tom Jenkins of Ohio Girl’s Basketball puts it on, and the top teams in the state will be there as well as many college coaches from around the country.