The Spartans held a halftime lead and went shot-for-shot with the Tritons before Notre Dame hung on for a 76-70 win, ending the Spartans season at the Resch Center in the WIAA Division 2 State Semifinal.
“We came to show that we belonged here and we did that,” said McFarland head coach Sara Mallegni. “These girls worked so hard all season, and I’m just so proud of them and they need to be proud of each other. I don’t think that there was a lot of thought that we wouldn’t be in this game and we came to play.”
In the first half, McFarland gave Notre Dame, a team that hadn’t won by 30 or more points in the playoffs, fits on offense. The Spartans held the Tritons to 3-11 shooting on 3-point field goals and forced four turnovers. On offense, junior Ava Dean flourished with 16 points on 7-8 shooting and junior Teagan Mallegni added 12 points.
“We have a team of girls who are competitors, and it really doesn’t matter who we put in front of them, they’re going to play their hardest,” said Mallegni.
In the second half, Notre Dame recovered from the first half and took a lead. It looked like Notre Dame was going to pull away when Trista Fayta hit two 3-pointers to give the Tritons a 60-51 lead.
Like McFarland had done all season, it battled back when it was faced with adversity. Junior Elise Freeman made two 3-pointers and the Spartans had cut the lead to 64-61 with four minutes left.
Freeman then recorded a steal on defense, which Mallegni scored a layup off of and McFarland was within one point with 2:30 left. However, Gracie Grzesk of Notre Dame hit a 3-pointer on the next offensive possession. The Tritons then got a steal on the next defensive possession and scored to increase the lead to 69-63.
However, McFarland continued to battle as Mallegni hit a 3-pointer to put the lead back within one possession. Mallegni brought the Spartans back within a possession on two different offensive possessions, but Notre Dame calmly made its free throws down the stretch. Grzesk and Fayta went 4-4 on free throws after the Spartans cut it to a possession game.
On the next free throw, Fayta missed and the ball was batted around the rebound. Sydney Whitehouse of Notre Dame came up with the loose ball with about two seconds left in the game. Whitehouse made both free throws to put the game out of reach and clinch the 76-70 victory for Notre Dame.
“This group of seniors has been through a lot,” said Mallegni. “They were the Covid class, their class dwindled quite a bit, and these three hung in there and they really took care of each other and took all of these girls under their wings.”