ASHWAUBENON - Last season, Notre Dame reached the Division 2 state semifinals but was turned away by New London which went on to win its second straight state title.
Friday, Notre Dame returned to the state tournament and was focused on not letting history repeat itself.
The Tritons didn't want to be one-and-done, they have bigger plans and Milton found that out quickly. If this was a boxing match, it would've been scored a knockout in the early rounds, because the Tritons punched Milton in every way possible and there was no response.
Behind a fast-paced offense and a ball-hawking defense, Notre Dame overwhelmed Milton, 61-35, at the Resch Center, advancing to its first state title game since 2005.
The Tritons will play New Berlin Eisenhower on Saturday at 6:35 p.m. as Eisenhower ended New London's bid at a three-peat in the other state semifinal
"Once we got over that nervous, big game, state semifinals, I thought we started playing really well," Notre Dame coach Sara Boyer-Rohde said. "I didn't think they were horrible on defense but I didn't think they were the best defensive team. I thought we could really take advantage of their defense and once the girls recognized that they just kind of controlled the game and we ran on them."
The Tritons (21-6) raced out of the gates, opening a 17-7 first-quarter lead and even with three quarters to play it felt like Notre Dame had no chance of losing.
Point guard Allie LeClaire was operating the offense, pushing the ball in the open court and finding open players, while the defense pressured the Red Hawks (19-8), especially Eliza Campbell, who recorded a game-high five steals.
If the first quarter wasn't an impressive statement, the second quarter was. The Tritons outscored Milton, 19-2, and held a 36-9 halftime lead as Milton was 2 for 21 from the field for 9.5 percent.
"Once we figured out we had the potential to do something they just kind of started taking advantage of that," Boyer-Rohde said. "It was pretty obvious we'd be able to run compared to them. I thought we were more athletic. Once we started doing that, it kind of opened up things."
The second quarter, however, did have one negative for the Tritons as LeClaire, the junior Green Bay recruit, twisted an ankle with less than two seconds to play. She limped off the court, but returned in the third quarter, looking close to 100 percent.
"I kind of left my feet and I came down on it wrong," LeClaire said. "It kind of stung at first."
LeClaire didn't play the fourth quarter, but she didn't need to. The Tritons led 50-18 and there was no reason to risk the team's star player.
With LeClaire in the game, the Tritons were unstoppable on offense. Notre Dame had scored at least 70 points in three of four postseason games entering Friday and if needed the Tritons could've gotten there Friday.
However, the points weren't needed. Nevertheless, the offense is executing at a high level as the Tritons were 21 of 35 from the floor for 60 percent.
"We have been very patient and we've been making the extra pass and taking the good shot," Boyer-Rohde said. "I think our offense is clicking on all cylinders now."
Defensively, Notre Dame wasn't too shabby either. Milton was just 12 of 47 from the field for 25.5 percent and Morgan Blumer (18.5 points per game), who's signed with Florida Gulf Coast, was held to 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
Campbell defended Blumer and Boyer-Rohde and raved about her play.
"She's a real good 3-point shooter," Boyer –Rohde said of Blumer. "Eliza's real similar to her, she can hit the three and post up. Overall, I think she did a real nice job on her. I thought Eliza worked her tail off."
With great offense and defense Notre Dame is now one win away from capturing its first state title since 2001. LeClaire said last year's semifinal loss is a motivator.
"Going into the summer last year losing really motivated us," LeClaire said. "We knew we had to step up our game."
- 3-pointers: LeClaire had 14 points and five assists, while Campbell had 13 points, six rebounds and five steals, Brianna Byrne 12 points and Sabrina Rapisarda added 10 points. … Notre Dame was 6 for 12 from 3-point range, while Milton was 3 for 18. … Notre Dame had a plus-one assist-to-turnover ratio (16-15), while Milton was minus-8 (7-15).
- Game ball: LeClaire, who ran Notre Dame's offense beautifully.
- Numbers game: 9 Points Notre Dame allowed in the first half.
Click on link for full boxscore: http://www.wiaawi.org/Portals/0/PDF/Results/Basketball_Girls/d2sfg1.htm
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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