(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
DEXTER -- Although they are riddled with underclassmen, the Dexter Lady Bearcats showed poise beyond their years.
Facing an older and much more experienced Notre Dame squad, the Lady Bearcats squeezed out a 56-52 win on Friday to claim the Class 4, District 1 championship at the Bearcat Event Center in Dexter.
"These last few games, we've really grown up," Dexter sophomore Brittany Harris said. "I don't feel like a sophomore basketball player and I don't think of (my teammates) as freshman."
The No. 2 seeded Lady Bearcats (18-9) came out of the gate firing on all cylinders -- led by freshman Hannah Noe.
Noe drove straight to the basket 15 seconds into the game to give the Lady Bearcats their first two points. She later drained two 3-pointers to give her team an 11-2 lead. Freshman Alison Jarrell added another 3-pointer to make it 14-2 solidifying Dexter's ravaging start.
"We knew we were going to have to come out in the first three or four minutes because that's crucial," said Noe, who finished with 13 points. "Us coming out and making those three's and being aggressive showed that we had to step it up even more."
Dexter shot 5 of 9 from the field in the first quarter -- 3 of 3 from behind the arc.
"We came off hot," Dexter head coach Chad Allen said. "Offensively, we made a lot of shots, we made a lot of jump shots. Hannah and Alison, especially Hannah early on, she knocked down some big shots. Hannah and Alison really stepped up big offensively."
Keeping Notre Dame and their standout, Allyson Bradshaw, from finding their stroke early also helped Dexter's momentum.
Bradshaw scored two of the Lady Bulldogs' four points in the first quarter as Notre Dame opened the game cold, shooting 2 of 14 from the floor and falling behind 14-4.
"My two big 3-point shooters didn't hit a shot in that first quarter so now they're trying to get that monkey off their back while trying to play hard," Notre Dame coach Renee Peters said. "You hit a couple of shots early and you're playing light and comfortable, you're not thinking about it, which is what (Dexter) did."
The Lady Bearcats continued to add to their lead in the second frame, but Bradshaw began to hit her stride matching Dexter almost point for point.
Noe sank her third 3-pointer of the night to give Dexter a 21-9 lead with just over four minutes left in the half. Bradshaw, who had a game-high 31 points and six steals, answered with 12 of Notre Dame's 14 points in the quarter including back to back buckets in a four-second span to close Dexter's lead to six points.
"Bradshaw, she didn't want to lose," said Allen. "This is her senior year and you could tell she just took over. She's a great player, a great scorer."
A 3-pointer by Jarrell, who scored 14 points, and a basket at the buzzer by Paige Patterson put Dexter back on top by 11, 28-17, at the end of the first half.
The third period started just as the first for Dexter, opening the second half with a 9-3 run that included five-straight points from Harris. At one point, the Lady Bearcats were up by 17 points in the third.
A strong end to the quarter by the Lady Bulldogs, however, cut that lead in half. Dribble penetration by Bradshaw as well as five points from Nicole Blattel led to a 9-1 run by Notre Dame which eliminated Dexter's double digit lead. The Lady Bulldogs were glaring up at a 44-36 deficit heading into the final quarter.
"We started hitting shots," Peters said about their resurgence. "We started playing with some confidence and once we got some confidence, we put on a little pressure. We said we were going to gamble and anticipate and it worked."
Allen noted that he knew Notre Dame wasn't going away. Bradshaw led their attack with nine points in the third as the Lady Bulldogs outscored Dexter 19-16.
"I could tell their game plan coming out of halftime," said Allen. "I'm sure Coach Peters was telling them to lower their heads and take it right at (us). That's all they did. They dribble penetrated and got right to the rim and got way too many looks against us and scored on a lot of them.
"That hurt us quite a bit."
Bradshaw, again, put the Lady Bulldogs on her back with eight points in the fourth quarter. Back to back baskets from the senior with 2:18 left to play closed Dexter's advantage to just one point, 51-50.
"We lost our composure a bit," Allen said. "We called timeout, tried to refocus them and I thought we did a great job of settling down for the most part."
One free throw off a one-and-one opportunity from Harris pushed Dexter's lead back up to two. A missed 3-pointer by Bradshaw during Notre Dame's next possession led to a basket by Noe on the trip back down the court with 1:20 remaining.
Notre Dame's Summer Burger hit a layup with just over one minute left to cut Dexter's lead back to two. That basket gave the Lady Bulldogs a chance to tie the game for the first time since in the opening minutes of the first quarter after a missed free throw by Noe that followed after.
The Lady Bulldogs had three, point-blank opportunities to score as the clock showed 25 seconds remaining. As each shot rolled around and then out for Notre Dame, Dexter's chances at knocking off the top-seed became greater and greater.
"That's when you just have to smile and think 'I guess it's just not in the cards,'" Peters said. "We had shots that were there and they didn't go in."
"I was pretty rattled," Harris said when those three missed shots went up. "We just knew we had to get the rebound. We tried our hardest to not let them have any offensive boards, but, we held our composure for the most part and we pulled it out."
Sophomore Katelynn Frazier was fouled following Notre Dame's tying opportunity, nailing both free throws with 18 seconds left to give Dexter their winning margin of four points, 56-52, and their fourth district championship in the last seven years.
"Our girls found a way to win," said Allen. "We're really young and you could tell we lost our composure and sort of freaked out. But, we still found a way to win."
DEXTER (56) -- Mollie Whitehead 7, Katelyn Frazier 3, Hannah Noe 13, Alison Jarrell 14, Erika Cobb 4, Brittany Harris 13, Paige Patterson 2. FG 18, FT 13-21, F 11. (3-pointers: Noe 3, Jarrell 4. Fouled out: none.)
NOTRE DAME (52) -- Miranda Fowler 7, Summer Burger 7, Allyson Bradshaw 31, Nicole Blattel 7. FG 20, FT 10-13, F 15. (3-pointers: Fowler 2, Bradshaw 1. Fouled out: none.)