By Terry Boehmker
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – In the Region 9 girls’ championship game on Sunday, Newport Central Catholic point guard Michaela Ware knew exactly what to do when she got the ball with the score tied and nine seconds left in overtime.
Ware dribbled down the right sideline, broke free off a screen set by one of her teammates and drove to the basket for a layup that gave NewCath a 48-46 win over Notre Dame at the Bank of Kentucky Center.
It was a play that Ware knew quite well. That’s how she scored the winning basket against Holy Cross in the semifinals of the 9th Region All “A” Classic last January.
“I just had to focus on finishing because there was only so many seconds left,” she said. “I just knew I had to be strong and, if I got fouled, go to the free throw line and hopefully put one in.”
Ware’s last-second layup sends NewCath (29-4) to the “Sweet 16” girls’ state tournament at Western Kentucky University for the first time since 2011. The Thoroughbreds will play 7th Region champion Louisville Butler (28-3) in a first-round game at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Bowling Green.
NewCath entered the post-season playoffs as the top-ranked team in the 9th Region, but the Thoroughbreds had a tough time taking the title. They came from 10 points behind to beat Conner in the first round of the region tournament and then won games against Holy Cross and Notre Dame by two-point margins.
In Sunday’s championship game, NewCath took the lead only once early in the third quarter before pulling out the win in overtime.
“We went into this (game) feeling like we should win it, but I’m sure Notre Dame felt the same way,’” said NewCath coach George Stull. “But it is a big sigh of relief, too, because we were down almost the entire game and we were finally able to overcome that last hump at the end.”
Notre Dame took a 32-26 lead early in the fourth quarter, but NewCath battled back to tie it, 44-44, and send the game into overtime. Two players did all of the Thoroughbreds’ scoring during that period with senior forward Nikki Kiernan getting 11 points and Ware getting seven.
Both teams had a chance to win the game on their final possession of the fourth quarter. Notre Dame lost the ball after a bounce pass hit off the leg of an opposing player. A few seconds later, NewCath tried to inbound the ball under it’s own basket and lost it out of bounds.
On Notre Dame’s last possession in overtime, senior guard Paige Kellam broke free on a drive to the basket, but her shot was blocked by Kiernan. That gave the ball back to NewCath and set the stage for Ware’s game-winning layup off a screen set by teammate Alexus Mayes.
“When you get down to the stretch and you have a point guard like Michaela you want her to have it,” coach Stoll said. “It was just a simple high-ball screen that gives her a chance to make a play, and she was able to do that.”
Notre Dame coach Wyatt Foust said he was at the game in January when Ware scored the winning basket against Holy Cross on that same play. But he didn’t prepare his players for it during a timeout with nine seconds left in overtime on Sunday.
“Having seen that before in a similar situation I absolutely should have known and had us prepared for that, and I didn’t,” Foust said. “That’s my fault. The kids played too hard to let something like that go.”
Kiernan and Kellam were the game’s leading scorers with 20 points each. Kiernan was named most valuable player on the all-tournament team for netting 66 points in three games.
Ware scored 13 points in the championship final with nine coming in the fourth quarter and overtime period.
“Nikki is our MVP for a reason, but our team rolls with Michaela,” Stoll said. “She’s what makes us go. Her importance can’t be stressed enough. She doesn’t even need to score anything just because she does so many other things.”
N. DAME 14-7-7-16-2–46
NOTRE DAME (22-9): Stallman 1 0 3, Ogle 6 0 12, Kellam 7 6 20, Clemons 2 0 4, Smith 3 1 7. Totals: 19 7 46.
NEWCATH (29-4): Davenport 2 0 4, Ware 5 3 13, Lewis 1 2 4, Mayes 1 5 7, Kiernan 8 3 20. Totals: 17 13 48.
3-pointers: ND–Stallman. NCC–Kiernan.
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: NewCath – Nikki Kiernan (MVP), Michaela Ware, Alexus Mayes. Notre Dame – Paige Kellam, Elly Ogle. Highlands – McKenzie Leigh, Alex Combs. Holy Cross – Dajah McClendon, Cassie Mayhaus. Conner – Taylor Gambrel. Boone County – Macey Ford. St. Henry – Jordan Miller. Dixie Heights – Liza Tibbs.