Trailing 23-6 midway through the second quarter, Notre Dame girls basketball coach Renee Peters turned to an unlikely source for a needed spark.
The result resembled an explosion.
Senior reserve forward Kelsey Luster's spark ignited the host Bulldogs to a heart-stopping 67-61 overtime victory Saturday against Ursuline Academy.
"We needed something, and she was the answer today," Peters said. "I stayed with her, and the girls started to get some confidence."
Luster's intensity on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor woke the Bulldogs from their first-half slumber. Notre Dame (18-3) opened the game by making just one of 19 shots from the field. Ironically, the Bulldogs' only made field goal over the first 12 minutes, 27 seconds of the game was by Luster, who came off the bench midway through the first period to spell fellow senior forward Miranda Fowler.
Luster's impact was immediate. Her rebound of teammate Kaitlin Welter's missed 3-pointer led to Karsen Powers scoring on a pullup jumper to make it 23-8. After a turnover, Powers found Luster underneath the hoop for an easy layup, and suddenly the Bulldogs were on fire.
Notre Dame scored the final 12 points of the quarter to pull within 23-18 at halftime.
Ursuline's Lauren Weschke opened the second half with a 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs answered with a 9-2 run -- including a putback by Luster following Annie Seibert's miss -- to pull within 28-27. And when junior guard Madeline Rosenquist canned a 3-pointer at the 4:13 mark to put the Bulldogs up 30-28, Notre Dame had come all the way back.
"I don't know where that came from," Luster, who finished with 12 points, said of her inspired play. "I just went with it. ... I felt that little burst of energy after my first two baskets."
Her teammates noticed -- and appreciated -- Luster's intensity.
"It was really cool to see her do so well," Fowler said. "She was working really hard. It seemed like she got every rebound. ... She definitely came in and got us going. She definitely ignited the fire for us to start playing harder."
But Ursuline (11-6) wasn't done. The Bears led 37-36 entering the fourth quarter and matched the Bulldogs shot for shot. The final eight minutes of regulation saw three ties and five lead changes.
Weschke -- who led all scorers with 25 points -- hit one of two free throws to knot the score 56-56 with 25.3 seconds left and send the game to overtime.
The Bulldogs owned the extra session, opening with a 6-0 run to lead 62-56. Weschke hit another trey, but Powers hit one of two free throws with 40.1 seconds left to put the Bulldogs up 63-59. Hannah Weisbrod canned a pair of free throws for the Bears with 36.8 seconds left, but Welter did the same at the 21.9 second mark to make it 65-61. Fowler's two free throws with 11.9 seconds left accounted for the final score.
"We just didn't close the door," Ursuline coach Mary Hannig said. "We had the opportunities."
Peters was being bewildered by the Bulldogs' slow start.
"At that point I was trying everything to figure out what magic formula would get us back in that game," Peters said. "We just couldn't buy a basket."
Siebert, who along with Fowler led the Bulldogs with 14 points each, admitted to being frustrated in the first half.
"It was frustrating," she said. "We were all our own worst enemy. We just had to regroup and keep pushing through it."
Keeping Notre Dame alive was its uncanny accuracy from the free-throw line. The Bulldogs hit all 12 of their first half free throws, didn't miss from the line until the overtime session, and finished 25 of 27 from the charity stripe, at one time connecting on 20 in a row.
It was enough to make a coach smile, and Peters was doing just that after the game.
"I've got to give my girls credit," she said. "This was a character game, a character-building win."
URSULINE ACADEMY (61) -- Abby Basler 2, Heather Pesigan 9, Lauren Weschke 25, Hannah Weisbrod 20, Holly Beckett 5. FG: 20, FT: 13-19, F: 19. (3-pointers: Weschke 6, Pesigan 1, Weisbrod 1. Fouled out: Samantha Warren.)
NOTRE DAME (67) -- Miranda Fowler 14, Karsen Powers 6, Annie Siebert 14, Shelby Beussink 10, Kaitlin Welter 4, Madeline Rosenquist 7, Kelsey Lester 12. FG: 19, FT: 25-27, F: 15. (3-pointers: Fowler 2, Powers 1, Rosenquist 1. Fouled out: Siebert)
JV -- Ursuline won 41-34.