By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay High School’s girls basketball team won’t be crowned Three Rivers Athletic Conference champions this season.
But against the team that will, the Trojans played like they were.
Tough on defense and opportunistic on offense, Findlay battled Toledo Notre Dame start to finish on Monday, falling 44-39 to the Eagles in a matchup of TRAC leaders.
“One thing I’ve learned about this team is they don’t quit,” said FHS coach Connie Lyon.
“We knew we were underdogs. But I felt our kids played toe-to-toe with them. They’ve worked hard to get to this point and they need to know they belong here.
“You could call this a moral victory, but it’s more of a mental victory, because it gives us that mind set that we can compete with teams of that caliber.”
Notre Dame, coming off a 22-5 season that included a berth in the Division I state semifinals, improved to 14-3 overall and ran its TRAC winning streak to 24 straight games. At 10-0 in TRAC play, the Eagles now own a two-game lead in the standings with four league games left.
Findlay had a four-game winning streak halted and is 13-4 overall. Despite the loss, the Trojans remain alone in second place (8-2) in the TRAC standings.
In a low-scoring, defensive game, Findlay led 7-5 after the first quarter, 14-10 at the half and 16-15 when Nicole Muehl converted two free throws with 5:39 left in the third quarter.
With two of its top post players — 6-foot sophomore Kaayla McIntyre and 5-11 junior Jayda Worthy — spending more time on the bench than on the floor because of foul trouble, Notre Dame got an unexpected offensive burst from Christy Ohlinger, a 6-0 senior wing, and Christiana Jefferson, a 5-4 sophomore guard.
In the first half of Monday’s game, Ohlinger and Jefferson combined for one basket and two points. Those two suddenly caught fire, though, scoring Notre Dame’s last 15 points of the third quarter in turning a 16-15 deficit into a 30-24 lead. Jefferson started the burst with a 3-pointer and a layup off a turnover. Ohlinger hit back-to-back 3’s to put Notre Dame up 26-20 with 1:38 left in the period.
“We’re young, so we still make a lot of young mistakes,” said Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway. “But we also have a lot of young weapons.
“Jayda, Kaayla and Tierra (Floyd, 6-0 soph.) are our leading scorers. A lot of our offense is run through those three players. But I thought Findlay was very physical and did a good job of getting our post players off the block, where they feel most comfortable.
“Those three are also our best passers, and when two of them were out of there because of foul trouble, it really disrupted our rhythm. We were just not as fluent.”
Notre Dame pushed its lead to 32-24 on McIntyre’s basket to open the fourth quarter.
But Findlay, also a young team with just three seniors on the roster, came back with some gut-check play of its own.
Zoe Swisher and Abby Smarkel scored back-to-back to trim Notre Dame’s lead to 34-30. Muehl nailed a 3-pointer to get Findlay within one.
After an offensive foul on Floyd, Muehl flashed to the basket, took a nice feed from Smarkel and scored to put Findlay up 35-34 with 3:24 left in the game.
When Notre Dame failed to regain the lead, and Findlay failed to pad it, Floyd broke hard off a screen and got the lay-in that put Notre Dame back in front.
Jefferson’s basket made it a 3-point game at 38-35. Findlay twice cut it to one, 38-37 on Swisher’s two free throws with 48 seconds left, and 40-39 on Muehl’s basket with 26.5 seconds on the clock.
Notre Dame converted just enough free throws (4 of 6) in the final 25 seconds to finally nail it down.
Jefferson finished with 16 points and Floyd had 11 points and eight rebounds for Notre Dame.
Smarkel had 11 points and Muehl nine for Findlay. McQueen had eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
“We knew this was going to be a strong test, but the kids really battled,” Lyon said.
“We knew what was on the line tonight. But we also know what’s ahead, and seeing how these kids have grown and matured this season, as a coach that has been very rewarding.”
Notre Dame also won the junior varsity contest, topping Findlay’s reserves 39-26. Sarah Smarkel had nine points for Findlay (9-8, 3-7 TRAC).
TOLEDO NOTRE DAME (14-3, 10-0)
Ohlinger 2-5 0-0 6, McIntyre 2-4 0-0 4, Worthy 2-5 2-9 6, Jefferson 5-10 5-6 16, Floyd 4-15 3-3 11, Battle 0-1 0-0 0, Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Parker 0-1 0-0 0, Schroeder 0-1 1-2 1, Miller 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15-42 11-20—44.
FINDLAY (13-4, 8-2
Swisher 1-7 3-4 5, Muehl 3-8 2-2 9, Smarkel 4-6 3-4 11, McQueen 3-5 2-2 8, Stanfield 0-4 0-0 0, Hardesty 2-5 0-0 6, Bendt 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 13-36 10-12—39.
Toledo Notre Dame 5 5 20 14 — 44
Findlay 7 7 10 15 — 39
3-Point GOALS: Toledo Notre Dame 3-9 (Ohlinger 2-3, Jefferson 1-3, Parker 0-1, Floyd 0-2); Findlay 3-10 (Swisher 0-3, Muehl 1-4, Hardesty 2-3).
rebounds: Toledo Notre Dame 27 (Floyd 8, Worthy 7); Findlay 30 (McQueen 12, Smarkel 6).
turnovers: Toledo Notre Dame 14, Findlay 22.
junior varsity: Toledo Notre Dame, 39-26.
By DAVE HANNEMAN