SHARONVILLE — The task was both challenging and foreign for Bellbrook: Defeat the state’s No. 1-ranked, winner of 96 consecutive games, two-time defending Division I state champion.
Although the outcome never seemed to be in doubt against Mt. Notre Dame, a 67-27 loss for the Golden Eagles in the district finals presented itself as an outcome to learn from on Saturday at Princeton High School.
A program only in its third year of competing in Ohio’s largest division, Bellbrook tried to prepare itself for the situation it faced. It threw together a schedule against the likes of GWOC opponents Miamisburg, Springboro and Beavercreek, and another which gives large schools fits in Tri-Village.
One doesn’t truly know the umbrage brought by playing MND until the face-to-face meeting occurs.
“I mean, obviously Mount Notre Dame, we have tremendous respect for their program and what they do,” head coach Jason Tincher said. “And you watch them on film and you almost say, we don’t necessarily have to play perfect, but even at 23-2 and a season we’ve had, we still had to be on in all aspects of the game. I mean, we needed to hit shots, we needed to rebound, we needed to pay attention to you know, their star players who are just unbelievably good.”
MND is indeed unbelievably good. Outside of having the reigning Ohio Ms. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American KK Bransford on its roster, size and shooters are abound and present matchup issues for any opponent and the team plays with an attention to detail in making each possession count as if the score was always tied.
Bellbrook now has a taste of what that level of play is like and wants to study the experience.
The game remained close throughout the opening quarter primarily due to the Golden Eagles pushing the ball out on the break and getting fast break layups, one of the strongest parts of the team’s success this season.
After cutting its deficit to 21-16 on a layup by senior Dreann Pryce just over a minute into the second quarter, her 10th and final points of the game, Bellbrook’s offense steadily transitioned into a full stall.
Pryce picked up her second foul of the first half and went to the bench. MND’s defense locked in from that point and only allowed one basket over the next six minutes in producing a 14-2 run.
“It kind of hurt,” Tincher said of Pryce’s foul trouble. “You know, being able to get out [on the break], she brings so much electricity to our lineup, like she brings a spark. And things happen when she’s in the game.”
The second half only asserted MND’s dominance. It held Bellbrook to a pair of three-pointers in the third and completely scoreless in the fourth quarter as frustration sank in more and more. A running clock in the final 3:30 expedited the end of the season for the Golden Eagles.
Bellbrook’s offense was never able to find the regular seams its perimeter weave helps produce, nor could it get open shooters to utilize the equalizer the three-point line can be for an underdog. Its defense did what it was able to stop second chance opportunities, but the size differential faced was too much.
“I’m not upset with the girls play necessarily,” Tincher said. “I know we only scored like six points in the second half, but that’s a good basketball team we played, I mean a very, very good basketball team with a lot of experience.”
The 10 points by Pryce led Bellbrook in the game. Taylor Scohy scored six, Olivia Trusty had five, and Kelley Griffin and Alayna Meyer both added three.
The ending may be a down note, but the journey to that point was full of celebratory moments. Bellbrook’s 23 victories were the most in six years, it won the SWBL for the second straight season, and was ranked eighth in the final state AP poll of the season.
Pryce was the team’s lone senior and what the team may lose in energy, it should make up for elsewhere. Bellbrook’s top three performers in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and field goal percentage are slated to return, including four first-team SWBL selections, one of whom is Taylor Scohy, the league’s player of the year.
“What I told our girls is now that we’re Division I, what they did for our program is tremendous,” Tincher said. “Because we worked our way up through Division II, we got to the state finals and it just didn’t happen. We had to take some lumps along that road as well as a program.
“And then we got to Division I and they’re already breaking glass here. They’re already getting us to a district final in Division I, so we have to take steps in the right direction. And this team did that. They got us here and we came up short and now we know where our program has to go forward. Super proud of them.”
The experience gained from facing one of the state’s best will only help the program ascend in future seasons.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.