RADNOR — Academy of Notre Dame may not have a more satisfying win than Thursday’s 67-35 drubbing of Germantown Academy.
It had been eight years since the Irish had defeated the reigning Inter-Ac League champions, who entered this coronavirus-shortened season winners of six straight league titles. GA’s 46-game league win streak came to a halt last week against Penn Charter.
From the opening tip, the Irish were in complete control.
“They did such a great job today. Very unselfish play. They were really committed to this and they wanted it,” Notre Dame coach Lauren Power said. “I think we worked our tails off today and it showed.”
All-Delco Maeve McErlane was magnificent. The junior guard poured in 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting from the floor. She banked six 3-pointers and was 5-for-6 at the free-throw line. She grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) February 11, 2021
Yeah, she was awesome.
“We haven’t beaten them in the past however many years,” McErlane said. “So, to finally beat them by the amount that we beat them by and come out strong was an amazing feeling, We set a fast pace to the game and we were all really disciplined.”
Notre Dame’s defense set the tone. Irish guards Julia Dever and Izzy Casale created a series of turnovers in the first quarter. They combined on four steals in the opening eight minutes as ND rushed out to a 20-9 advantage.
“We really take pride in our defense. You just don’t know what’s going to happen on the offensive end or who’s going to step up. We haven’t had a lot of time in practice to gel on the offensive end, so our focus has been just to get it done defensively,” Power said. “I can’t say enough about the all-around effort. Those two (Dever and Casale) are like gnats on the floor. And they get steals and deflections and make it really tough on people. But it really was a team defensive effort. I’m really proud of them because that’s where we got it done.”
Short in stature, Dever and Casale bring a lot of heart and grit to the Irish, who improved to 3-0 this year. Dever tallied 13 points and four steals, while Casale added seven points and a pair of thefts.
“That’s probably been the biggest part of my game ever since I was younger,” Dever said. “The fact that I’m bringing that to this team and getting those hype plays, it kind of brings more energy to the game and makes it fun to play.”
Notre Dame’s stifling defense forced nine GA turnovers in the opening half. The Patriots shot a paltry 25.4 percent (13-for-51) from the field and were held to nine points or less in three quarters.
“We work so well together and work a lot on our defense, too, and our ball pressure,” Casale said. “It’s so that they don’t get easy passes inside, which we probably could’ve done a little bit better today. But I think we did a good job for the most part and diving for the ball and stuff like that are really big parts of our defense; just being all over the place, really, and always giving it 100 percent.”
The Irish keyed on stopping 6-2 sophomore forward Kendall Bennett, who is one of the top underclassmen in the area. Bennett pulled down 10 rebounds, but had a hand in her face most of the game. Notre Dame’s sophomore big, Katie Halligan, played her tough. Bennett finished with only four points.
“I think we wanted to focus on Kendall (Bennett) inside. We really wanted to try to shut her down as best as we could, and that was an adjustment defensively,” Power said.
Senior guard Jessica Moore helped keep the Patriots afloat in the first half, scoring 11 of her team-high 15 points. GA cut its deficit to seven points by halftime, but Notre Dame responded out of the break and closed the game on a 39-14 run.
“We made it a big point at halftime that the first few minutes of the second half are really important,” Casale said. “So, I think we definitely did that and we made it escalate from there.”
Notre Dame turned to McErlane to jumpstart its offense in the third quarter. All she did was hit three treys and score 14 points.
“With Maeve, last year she was one of our best players, but this year she has elevated her game and she gets it done on both ends of the floor,” Power said. “If you look at her stat sheet, she’s getting the steals, she’s getting the rebounds, and she’s guarding the other team’s best offensive player. … She’s doing a great job of reading the defense and letting the game come to her and not forcing her shots.
“I thought she took great shots tonight and, you know, I can’t say enough good things about her. She makes everyone else better, too.”
Notre Dame will have another shot at GA this year. Penn Charter looms on the schedule, too. It’s unfortunate the Inter-Ac League opted to play a non-championship season that will conclude Feb. 28. For Notre Dame, the goal is an undefeated season, which is an attainable goal. A perfect season would be a nice trade-off for not having the chance to win a league title.
“As much as we want to have a championship, it’s not impacting our motivation,” Power said. “If anything, they have a chip on their shoulder. We lost in the state (independent schools) championship last year and we were this close. It’s definitely a statement season for us.”