By Dan Wright
PARK HILLS, Ky. – With two seconds left in Thursday night’s 35th District championship game at Notre Dame junior center Ally Mayhaus ripped a rebound away from two Notre Dame players, grabbing hold of Holy Cross’s first district championship since 2006 in the process.
With the 36-33 win against the Pandas, the Indians halted Notre Dame’s seven-year run as district champion.
“It’s been a long time,” said Holy Cross head coach Kes Murphy. “If you think about where we were two years ago, an under .500 ballclub (13-15), and four years ago when I arrived as the fourth coach in five years, to come in here and win with our young kids - awesome.”
The win was made more remarkable by the fact that foul trouble caused the Indians to miss both of their 6-foot-2 junior post players in sisters Ally and Cessie Mayhaus for a significant portion of the game.
Ally Mayhaus led the Indians with 12 points and eight rebounds to be named the tournament’s most valuable player despite missing the final 6:42 of the third quarter after picking up her third foul.
“That was frustrating and not playing well the first half really had me frustrated, but I think it really made me play harder in the end,” said Ally Mayhaus.
After her sister, Cessie, also picked up her third foul with 4:25 left in the third quarter, Notre Dame appeared poised to take control with a 10-2 run that gave the Pandas their largest lead of the game, 27-22.
Sophomore point guard Dajah McClendon stopped the run with a basket to get Holy Cross back to within three, 27-24, before the quarter was out, and senior guard Michelle Hungler’s 3-pointer capped a five-point run to start the fourth quarter, putting Holy Cross back on top, 29-27.
“It was just a tremendous team effort,” said Murphy. “Everybody that played executed our stuff and they believed the whole while when Notre Dame made their run. We believed, we fought back, and it worked out to our advantage, thankfully.”
Notre Dame was able to regain the lead, 33-31, on two free throws by senior guard Paige Kellam with 3:15 remaining, but freshman guard Aleah Tucker immediately responded with her third 3-pointer of the night to put Holy Cross back ahead, 34-33.
“Aleah really stepped up with the three and her defense has been phenomenal in this tournament and that helped the team get the two wins,” said Ally Mayhaus. “From Beechwood and tonight, her defense was amazing.”
Tucker and McClendon, who both made the all-tournament team, also helped the Indians drain nearly all of the final two minutes of the game after Notre Dame missed a shot and needed to foul three times for Holy Cross to get into the bonus.
“I wanted to use clock and I just prayed that we were poised enough to maintain possession and just run clock,” said Murphy. “Our sophomore point guard (McClendon), our freshman guard (Tucker), they did a great job of maintaining.”
The Indians were finally forced to the foul line with 13 seconds remaining, and when senior guard Elly Ogle rebounded McClendon’s only missed free throw of the game, it gave the Pandas one final chance to keep their streak of district titles alive.
“We weren’t having a very successful night from the set offense,” said Notre Dame head coach Wyatt Foust, who elected to let play resume. “We were better off trying to get a clean look. That’s exactly what happened. We had a layup two feet from the basket and sometimes shots don’t fall. Shots didn’t fall tonight and that’s just the story of the game.”
The Pandas did get a clean look under the basket, but when their final shot failed to climb over the rim, Ally Mayhaus wrested it away and made two free throws for the final margin.
“I just saw the scoreboard and saw there were two seconds left and I knew I had to get that rebound for the win,” Mayhaus said. “When I did I was really excited, but nervous at the same time because I knew I had to make my foul shots.”
Despite the loss, the Pandas, who were led by junior forward Haylee Smith’s 13 points and nine rebounds, get to join the Indians in next week’s 9th Region tournament
“That’s the only good news is that our season is not over,” said Foust. “The big thing is the girls will just have to let this motivate them. The last time we lost we won about seven in a row, so hopefully that’s the response they get.”
The Indians, meanwhile, will get to participate in the regional tournament as a district champion for the first time in eight seasons.
“It’s definitely really exciting,” said Ally Mayhaus. “I’ve never been in this position before, but being here’s really got our team pumped for regionals.”
HOLY CROSS 10-6-8-12—36
at NOTRE DAME 9-4-14-6—33
HOLY CROSS (20-7): McClendon 3 4 10, Hungler 1 0 3, Tucker 3 0 9, A. Mayhaus 5 2 12, Stanley 1 0 2. Totals 13 6 36.
NOTRE DAME (20-8): Stallman 3 0 8, Kellam 1 2 4, Clemons 3 1 8, Smith 5 3 13. Totals 12 6 33.
3-pointers: H—Tucker 3, Hungler. N—Stallman 2, Clemons.
All-Tournament Team: Maria Cuthrell, Covington Latin; Macy Stuempel, Beechwood; Elly Ogle,
Notre Dame; Carlee Clemons, Notre Dame; Dajah McClendon, Holy Cross; Aleah Tucker, Holy Cross. Most Valuable Player: Ally Mayhaus, Holy Cross.