NORWALK — Primary ballhandlers Alexa Nau, Abby McMullen and Katie Neate were pressured end to end. Sharpshooters Madison Luthy and Elizabeth Stuart were face-guarded, and center Lindsey Linard had to plow through backside help every time she touched the ball.
The Toledo Notre Dame Academy girls basketball team put on a defensive clinic in the Norwalk Division I Regional semifinals Tuesday, and that quickly squashed any hopes of a Medina upset.
The Bees fought like crazy to keep the final score respectable — they were still diving for loose balls with a minute left — but too much physical defense, too much Jala Johnson and too much Grace VanSlooten added to a 49-28 loss that featured a tone-setting message almost immediately.
The Eagles (22-5) advanced to play Canton McKinley (25-1) for the championship Saturday at noon, while Medina (23-3) finished tied with the 1992-93 team for the most victories in school history.
“Toledo Notre Dame, they played really hard, and they just went for everything that we gave them,” Linard said. “Sometimes that makes that difference in the game. They played well. We tried to counter, but it wasn’t our best game.
“We fought until the end, and I was proud of that,” she added. “Even to the final buzzer, we were trying to keep the score as close as we could. I was really happy with that.”
Medina needed a fourth-quarter rally to get its shooting above 20 percent and finished 9-for-38 (.237).
The Bees were 3-of-9, 1-for-7 and 2-for-11 in falling behind 18-6, 26-12 and 34-17 at the quarter breaks and missed their first eight 3-point attempts before Luthy banked one home with 2:24 remaining in the game.
The turnover total of 21 is misleading, as the bulk were committed at crucial points to begin each half. Medina made miscues on four of its first five possessions, as Notre Dame’s man press was the best the Bees had seen all season, and the Eagles were so good in the half court that Medina rushed many of its open looks, leading to bricks that were sent the other way in transition.
The leading scorer was a three-way tie between Nau, Linard and Sarah McKee with five points before Linard scored inside late to get to seven, complementing a sterling defensive effort of seven rebounds and five blocks.
“The first quarter, the difference was we played scared and timid and didn’t do what we know how to do against their press,” coach Karen Kase said. “We know how to beat that, but today we were deer in headlights. We couldn’t make the right passes or even get to the right spots, so that was a bad start, and it just kind of snowballed from there.
“We did do some good things as the game went on, but it was playing catch-up the whole night. That was tough to do.”
Notre Dame didn’t do much in half-court situations after Medina was forced out of man and into 2-3 or 1-2-2 zones. That latter forced the ball out of Northwest District Player of the Year Johnson’s hands well above the 3-point arc, but the Bees were forced out of that scheme as well after turnovers allowed the Eagles to push their lead to 17 in the third quarter.
The twitchy-fast Johnson had seven driving layups and three free throws for a game-high 17 points, while the 6-foot-2 VanSlooten, a long-armed freshman who screams “Division I prospect,” added 11 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Defensive specialist Ashley Barron, a 6-footer headed to Cincinnati on a soccer scholarship, contributed six, eight and two.
Notre Dame’s 18-for-39 effort (.462) from the floor was misleading, as it was 8-for-10 on mostly driving layup attempts in the first quarter and made 5-for-9 in the fourth period while the Bees scrambled.
Medina’s chance to get back into the game came when the Eagles were 5-for-18 in the middle periods — mostly against the 1-2-2 — but the Bees didn’t have nearly enough offense to keep up.
“They really pressured our shooters, which made it hard to get passes off or any shots off in general,” Linard said.
Much like they were after regular-season defeats to Brunswick and Solon, Medina players shed very few tears. The mature, close-knit group was classy and already reminiscing about the season.
Team Better Together hugged it out and walked out of Norwalk High with heads held high, knowing it will go down as one of the best in school history.
“It sucks to lose and it sucks to end such an amazing season, but we had a great time,” Linard said. “We made a lot of memories and we made history for our school. It’s one of those bittersweet moments.”