Man, the last 12 minutes of basketball played in Letchworth last night were tense.
With about four minutes left in regulation, the Lady Irish of Notre Dame looked like they had the game well in hand. A double-digit lead and good command of the game over the previous three-and-a-half quarters. Then the wheels sort of came off.
Turnovers, mental errors, penalties -- York managed to tie the game by the end of the fourth quarter.
That meant overtime.
And at the end of overtime, the two teams fighting for the Class D1 Section V championship were tied again.
"I'm proud of the heart that they showed, not just tonight, but along this whole run," said Head Coach Tom McCulley said. "I’m amazed at the effort they put out."
Finally, at the end of the second OT, there was a final score. Notre Dame beat York 64-59.
McCulley is in his first season as head coach of the Lady Irish, replacing Dave Pero, who led Notre Dame to Section V titles and a state championship. McCulley said getting this far in his first season has been "surreal," but gave all the credit to the girls.
"These girls have been motivated and worked hard in practice and we had a tough schedule that really challenged us," McCulley said. "These girls have been battle tested since the middle of December. That’s why they were able to keep their cool and pull out the victory."
During regulation play, you could sort of watch things unravel slowly. Not only did Notre Dame lose the lead, in the second overtime, Notre Dame found themselves down by a point with less than two minutes to play.
"That can demoralize some teams," McCulley said. "Our team, we’re not built that way. They showed character and they fought through.
"We were gassed," McCulley added. "Both teams were gassed. It was a full-court, man-to-man the whole way. It was like a prize fight. At some point, somebody’s going to give. They got into foul trouble. A couple of girls fouled out. I knew it was wearing them down, so I knew once we wore them down we could get the ball to the spots so we could score relatively easily."
The win sets up what promises to be a classic confrontation -- Notre Dame, the Class D1 champs, vs. Elba, who won the Class D2 championship earlier in the evening at Letchworth. These are two powerhouse girls basketball programs with a long history of winning (both have won state championships this decade) and a long history of wanting to beat each other more than any other team -- other than the one right in front of them. Notre Dame and Elba will play at 7 p.m., Tuesday, at Cal-Mum to consolidate the Class D championship so one of the teams can go on to represent Section V in the Far West Regionals, the next step toward a possible berth in the state championship Final Four.
The last time the two teams met in post-season was 2013 when Notre Dame upset Elba in a semifinals game on its way to an eventual state championship. Elba hadn't won a Section V title since 2012 when they went on to become state champs.
Callie McCulley, tournament MVP, scored 20 points. Margaret Sutherland scored 16, Natalie Thornton 13, Hannah Bowen got nine and Morgan Rhodes, six.
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