NORTH EASTON, Mass. -– Notre Dame of Hingham trailed No. 1-seeded Oliver Ames for almost three and a half quarters, but when crunch time came, the Cougars surged past the Tigers on their way to a 48-38 upset.
Notre Dame, which is seeded 16th in the MIAA Division 2 South bracket, limited Oliver Ames to just 10 second half points and just six in the final quarter. The Tigers were only able to hit three field goals in the second half, due in large part to NDA’s zone defense.
“The team we have is tough,” Notre Dame Academy head coach Michael Barrett said. “I think our match up zone really hurt them. We forced them to keep the ball out of 32’s [Caitlyn Abela] hands. I think that the difference was rebounding and getting out on the fast break.”
Oliver Ames took a 28-22 lead into the halftime break, and it looked like the Tigers were ready to start pulling away early in the second half. Junior Kate Holleran hit two 3-pointers to increase OA’s lead to 34-22, but that would be all the scoring the top seed would do in the third. The Cougars clamped down and OA finished the quarter shooting 0-8, with five turnovers and no offensive boards.
Notre Dame’s strong defense turned into a hot offense, as the Cougars closed the quarter on a 10-0 run to bring them within 2 at 34-32 heading into the final frame.
Cougar senior captain McKenna Cudgma scored 8 of her game-high 26 points in the final frame to help Notre Dame to victory. Her layup with 6:24 left tied the game at 34. After an OA free throw, Cudgma hit a three to give NDA their first lead at 37-35 with 4:07 left to play.
“When McKenna doesn’t rush, she’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever had,” Barrett said.
Cudgma helped ice the game, hitting three of four free throws as NDA inched further and further away from the Tigers.
“It’s very exciting,” Cudgma said of knocking off the top seed. “We definitely we did it as a whole team effort. From everyone sitting on the bench, to the girls on the floor, to the coaches coaching a hell of a game.”
As Barrett noted, the Cougars focused on Oliver Ames and Sacred Heart-bound forward Caitlyn Abela. Abela had 14 points in the first half, but the zone defense didn’t allow her to score a field goal in the second frame. Instead, Oliver Ames settled for jumpers and three’s –- going just 1-for-18 from the field in the fourth.
“We didn’t execute,” Oliver Ames head coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook said. “We didn’t play our game. If you let a team like Notre Dame hang around, you’re going to pay for it. They are one of the teams you can’t look beyond their record because you know they play a tough schedule. I don’t think it was a scenario were we took them lightly it’s just that we didn’t execute and we let them hang around.”
Notre Dame Academy will now travel to Holliston on Friday to play the No. 9 seeded Panthers, who upset the 8th-seeded Foxborough Warriors tonight. The game will tip off at 7 p.m.
A CONFIDENT TEAM
From the opening tip, it was clear that Notre Dame wasn’t intimidated. The Cougars stood toe-to-toe with Oliver Ames throughout the first quarter -– mostly in large part to Cudgma, who scored all nine of their points.
Their confidence can clearly be attributed to their coach, Barrett, who had a message for his team even before their preliminary round game against Plymouth North.
“I told the kids before the Plymouth North game ‘I guarantee if you beat Plymouth North you can beat [Oliver Ames],’” Barrett told them.
Cudgma might have scored the most points, but was quick to attribute her teammates and coaches. It wasn’t something she saw in the defense and she didn’t say she was just feeling it. Instead, she praised her teammates.
“My team passed the ball very well,” she said with a big smile
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
For a team that has been as successful as the Oliver Ames’ girls basketball squad in the regular season, the playoffs haven’t been nearly as kind. For the second straight year, the Tigers –- this year 19-1 –- were bounced in the first round of the MIAA playoffs. In 2009, Notre Dame eliminated Oliver Ames in the first round as well.
“History has a tendency to repeat itself unfortunately,” Clement-Holbrook said.
Oliver Ames will graduate a strong senior class, led by 1,000 point scorer and the Sacred Heart-bound Abela. The Tigers will also graduate point guard Asia Mitchell, center Kristin Ellis, and guards Alli Brennan and Kelsey Bliss.
“This was a sisterhood,” Clement-Holbrook said. “They didn’t want it to end because they had great chemistry. They really truly loved each other like they were a family. You don’t get that very often and I think that’s what makes this even more painful. They were so willing to sacrifice for each other.”