|Allen Ramsey Photos. Top: NewCath's Michaela Ware (11) scores the game-winning lay-up in overtime. Center: The Thoroughbreds celebrate their fourth 9th Region title since 2003. Bottom: The team poses with the trophy.|
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – If the script sounds familiar, it’s because it has happened before.
It’s just bigger this time because it led to a 9th Region girls basketball championship. Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbred junior point guard Michaela Ware dribbles to the right of the paint, a teammate sets a huge pick near the free-throw line and Ware hits the game-winning lay-up in the waning seconds before taller players can slide over and block the shot. She did it again in Sunday’s 9th Region championship in overtime with about a second left to lift NewCath to a 48-46 win over the defending champion Notre Dame Pandas (22-9). Teammate Alexus Mayes set the huge pick.
The Thoroughbreds (29-4) won their fourth region title since 2003 as a result at the Bank of Kentucky Center on the Northern Kentucky University campus. The other three came in 2003, 2005 and 2011. NewCath also avenged a 39-26 loss to the Pandas on Feb. 13 on The Hill.
Ware has a lot of experience hitting game-winning lay-ups. She did it with three seconds left in the All “A” 9th Region semifinals against Covington Holy Cross and at Highlands last year.
“I knew I had to be strong, because even if I drew a foul, (the Panda players) were bigger than me,” Ware said. “Having that feeling before, I was obviously used to it. But it’s still nerve-racking. I just focused on finishing.”
NewCath Head Coach George Stoll served as an assistant to Ron Dawn on the 2011 team. That team lost to Calloway County, 62-57 in the first round of the state tournament. The Thoroughbreds snapped a three-game losing streak to the Pandas dating back to the 2011 region tournament.
“We went into this feeling like we should win the tournament,” Stoll said. “But I’m sure Notre Dame felt the exact same way. We were able to overcome that last hump at the end. I’m so happy for them. They deserved this.”
Ware finished with 13 points. She scored nine of them in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Two buckets pulled NewCath to within one in the final 2:45 in regulation and another tied the game at 44 with 50.3 second left. Ware also had five assists.
“It’s a high ball screen,” Stoll said. “It gives you a chance to make a play. It’s not about any certain thing coming open. We had a shooter in the corner and she was able to make a play.”
The Thoroughbreds had a chance to win it in regulation. But NewCath could not get off a clean shot with 1.5 seconds left.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Nikki Kiernan again carried the Thoroughbreds with 20 points and 16 rebounds for a double-double. She also had two assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
“I’m very happy for (my teammates) to experience this since I got to experience it as a freshman,” Kiernan said. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
Paige Kellam and Elly Ogle had great games to lead Notre Dame. Kellam had 22 points and Ogle, a Louisiana State volleyball commit, had 12. Kellam hit a jumper with 2:48 in overtime to give Notre Dame a 46-44 advantage.
“Most of Ogle’s scoring was lay-ups,” Stoll said. “It was us not boxing out or playing good on-ball defense. We didn’t make any real adjustments. We got down, guarded, boxed out and did a better job on her.”
NewCath tied the game again with 1:08 remaining. Stephanie Lewis drew a foul and made both free throws.
The Thoroughbreds shot free throws better than they did in the semifinals against Holy Cross making 13-of-17 for 76 percent while Notre Dame made just 7-of-14 for 50 percent. NewCath made 17-of-40 shots for 43 percent compared to 19-of-46 for 41 percent.
Notre Dame did have some offensive putbacks. The Pandas won the rebounding battle, 31-29 including 12-9 on the offensive glass.
The Pandas led a good majority of the game. They led 12-6 at one point in the first quarter. An Ogle offensive putback gave them a 14-9 lead entering the second quarter.
But the Thoroughbreds fought back and tied the game at 14. Kiernan made a triple from the right wing with 5:50 remaining.
Kellam hit a free throw and lay-up to put Notre Dame up 17-14 before Lewis hit a jumper. Ogle scored two more times. Those scores sandwiched an Ansley Davenport jumper. The Pandas led 21-18 at halftime.
The Thoroughbreds scored the first six points of the third quarter to go up 24-21. Davenport, Ware and Kiernan scored during that time.
But Notre Dame scored the next seven points to go up 28-24. Kiernan hit a jumper to trim the margin to 28-26 entering the fourth quarter.
The Pandas tried to pull away. Kellam made two free throws with 4:55 remaining to put Notre Dame up 34-29. But Kiernan hit two free throws and recorded a steal and score to cut the margin to 34-33 with 4:15 remaining.
Notre Dame did go up 39-35 after a Carlee Clemons offensive putback. But Ware recorded a three-point play with 2:45 left to trim the margin to 39-38.
“I just had to have confidence in my shot,” Ware said. “I’d been struggling with my shot previously. I had to see it go in.”
NewCath takes on 6th Region champion Louisville Butler (28-3) at 7:30 p.m. EST in the first round of the state tournament Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Butler beat Notre Dame, 58-28 on Jan. 31 in the Louisville Invitational Tournament.