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Notre Dame finishes short of state title repeat
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A 17-game winning streak ran into a 6-foot-3 roadblock Saturday at the Hearnes Center.
The roadblock -- named Brittany Mannings -- denied Notre Dame's girls basketball team access to the Class 4 state trophy. Mannings towered, swatted, rebounded and scored, leading top-ranked Duchesne to a 56-52 victory over fifth-ranked Notre Dame in the Class 4 championship game.
The Bulldogs, last year's Class 2 state champions, hit the blockade full force and nearly toppled it. But Mannings and Duchesne picked on the one weakness a determined Notre Dame team could do nothing about.
"All we were missing was height," Notre Dame senior Ali Tyson said. "We had everything else there except a couple of inches on somebody."
Notre Dame put a multitude of defenders on Mannings, but they all had one thing in common -- they were all more than a head shorter than the Pioneers junior.
Mannings finished with 24 points, gathered 19 rebounds and blocked eight shots. After the game, Duchesne coach Charles Elmendorf admitted his star player was taller than her advertised 6-foot-3.
"We've faced 6-foot-4 players, and she was taller," Elmendorf said.
"I don't think my girls were intimidated, they just couldn't stop her," Notre Dame coach Jerry Grim said. "They did everything they could do."
The Bulldogs tried fronting Manning, playing behind her and double-teaming.
"She just did a great job," Grim said. "I didn't think she could keep going for 32 minutes, but she did."
Ashley Millham, Notre Dame's all-time leading scorer, finished with a game-high 26 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Sommer McCauley, who had 28 points in Friday's semifinal victory over Carthage, finished with 11 points.
Notre Dame appeared to be slowly figuring out Duchesne and its towering junior midway through the game after Mannings already had inflicted considerable damage.
Mannings established herself from the outset. The Bulldogs' 5-foot-9 senior Erin Pfau drew the initial assignment but picked up two fouls in the opening 30 seconds. Moments later Mannings held an offensive rebounding clinic, ultimately scoring the game's first two points on a third putback attempt. She scored off three offensive rebounds alone in the first quarter, which ended with Duchesne leading 18-12.
Duchesne still led by six points when Notre Dame began to experience some success with Mannings. With the feisty 5-foot-7 McCauley rotated to the task, the Bulldogs forced a couple of turnovers on Pioneer attempts to feed the ball inside to Mannings.
A technical foul and three Pioneer turnovers allowed Notre Dame to tie the score by halftime. It marked the first tie since 10-10 and gave the Bulldogs momentum at the break.
Notre Dame took its first lead of the game on the opening possession of the second half when McCauley hit a 3-pointer. Millham added a short bank shot with 7:03 to complete an 11-0 Notre Dame run for a 31-26 lead.
The Bulldogs held their only lead for less than three minutes before Duchesne went on a 9-0 run.
"We let it slip right out of our fingers," Tyson said. "I don't know what happened. We had a lot of momentum, and then suddenly it just turned around on us."
Mannings' teammates, especially senior guard Meghan Blase, began to heat up.
Mannings started the spurt with a free throw, but her teammates took care of the rest. Blase scored the Pioneers' next five points, including a 3-pointer with 4:01 left in the third quarter that gave Duchesne the lead for good. Blase scored 11 of her 14 points after halftime.
"We knew she might be a key to the game besides Manning, of course," Grim said. "We tried to always know where she was, but she got through us some."
Abby Goellner added an offensive rebound, and Blase ended the run with a free throw for a 35-31 lead with 3:07 left in the third period.
Duchesne took a 37-36 lead into the fourth quarter and quickly matched its biggest lead of the game with a Alison Brown 3-pointer and two Blase free throws for a 42-36 advantage.
"We got in a hurry there at times, in the second half especially, where we'd bring it down and jack up a shot," Grim said. "And you can't win that way."
The lead grew to a game-high nine points, 48-39, with 4:14 left on two Emily Friedel free throws.
Notre Dame cut the lead to 48-44 on a Millham three-point play and a Pfau baseline jumper with 3:39 remaining.
Ahead 52-48 with :33 left, Duchesne hit free throws on its final three possessions. Millham cut the deficit to 55-52 with two free throws with three seconds remaining, but Blase clinched the victory by hitting a free throw with less than a second on the clock.
"We went from Class 2 to Class 4 and were in the top two in Class 4, and we should be happy," McCauley said. "I think we accomplished a lot."
Notre Dame's playoff run was an unlikely one after the school was bumped up in class and lost three starters from last year's championship team. The Bulldogs lost their first three games of the season and stood 5-7 after a loss Jan. 9.
"Nobody expected us to be here except us," Grim said. "We set a goal to get here. Once we got here we set a goal to win it, and we had our opportunities to win but we just fell a little short.
"The No. 1 team in the state did a great job, but the No. 2 team in the state did a pretty good job, too."
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