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Notre Dame girls basketball five-peats as SEMO Conference Tournament Champions

The Notre Dame girls basketball team poses with the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship trophy after beating Jackson 46-44 in the title game Friday night at New Madrid. Photo by Jay Forness

In a game that went down to the wire for the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship, the Notre Dame girls basketball team once again asserted its dominance in Southeast Missouri on Friday night in New Madrid.

The Bulldogs did so by winning a record fifth-straight conference tournament title in a 46-44 thriller over their bitter rival Jackson, which they have now beaten in this game for the past five years. In the final 25 seconds, Notre Dame took a two-point lead thanks to one made free-throw off four attempts by sophomore guard Brie Rubel.

Earlier with less than four minutes remaining, Rubel hit her second 3-pointer of the night to give the Bulldogs its first lead since the second quarter at 41-40. This trey by Rubel capped off a 14-2 run for Notre Dame and was crucial on a night where the team only shot 13% from beyond the arc.

“It was really just the “want” I think — everyone just wanted [to win this game] so bad,” Rubel said. “I just told myself I was not going to miss another three, and I just relaxed and shot it, and it went in. We were going from there. … [During those free throws], I was really nervous and just told myself, “Relax – shoot it – I’ll be good.’ It worked out!”

Notre Dame sophomore guard Brie Rubel scored a team-high 11 points with two 3-pointers along with having four assists and three steals in her team’s 46-44 win over Jackson Friday night in New Madrid. Photo by Nick McNeal

The two-point lead Rubel gave Notre Dame was held for the final score after Bulldogs sophomore post Nevaeh Lucious, who recorded a game-high three blocks, swatted a 3-point attempt by Indians senior guard Holland Guilliams as time expired. In the first half, Guilliams knocked down five 3’s for a game-high 15 points, but she was held all but scoreless in the final 20 minutes.

“[Making that block] felt really good, especially since Holland had all those 3’s,” Lucious said. “She’s a great player, so I knew as soon as I saw her running out to the corner, I told myself, ‘I have to get there. She cannot get this.’ It felt really good.”

The Bulldogs defense came up with a total 12 takeaways throughout the night as Brie, who finished as Notre Dame’s leading scorer at 11 points, tied for a team-high three steals with junior forward Olivia Wagoner. Pacing these two in takeaways were Lucious and fellow sophomore forward Kate Rubel, who both had two steals of their own.

Outside of Guilliams’ 15 points, Jackson had a combined 14 from juniors guard Lillie Cole and forward Brooke Balsman with seven points apiece. Cole and sophomore Lilly Watkins were the only Indians to hit a 3-pointer besides Guilliams, while junior Cameron Alsdorf paced Cole and Balsman with six points as she only made one field goal, finishing 4-of-6 at the free-throw line.

“I think we really took our defensive play up a notch from the first half and the third quarter,” Brie Rubel said. “We just told each other, “Trap, trap, trap! And don’t let them shoot any 3’s,’ was the main thing. We just saw the ball and tried to go for it.”

A majority of these defensive stops came in the fourth and final quarter after Jackson held an 11-point lead following the first half (30-19) as well as the third quarter (38-27). The Bulldogs were without Kate and Nevaeh for a majority of the third as both players sat on the bench with four fouls each. Notre Dame was called for a total of 16 fouls as Wagoner had four as well.

Notre Dame sophomore post Nevaeh Lucious finished with nine points, six rebounds and three blocks in her team’s 46-44 win over Jackson Friday night in New Madrid. Photo by Jay Forness

“Just going up strong, I know I’m usually going to get the foul called — sometimes it’s unfair,” Lucious said. “It happens when we’re bigger, but we have a whole bunch of shooters because all of our girls can shoot. In the fourth, I knew I was going to be more calm when I was going straight up [with the ball]. Kate and I both had four fouls, so we were just really talking to each other and calming each other down.”

Lucious and Kate Rubel finished as Notre Dame’s second and third-leading scorers with nine and eight points, respectively, as the Indians defense packed the painted area. Nevaeh and Rubel created scoring opportunities, though, by spreading out Jackson’s defense and produced nine points during the Bulldogs 12-point run in the fourth quarter.

“I had a lot of energy, obviously, from sitting out in the third, but I think my energy helped and everyone fed off it,” Kate Rubel, who also had three assists and one block in the game, said. “Nevaeh’s blocks helped with the energy, and Brie’s 3’s help always. It was hard being on the bench, and I don’t know if I was sitting a lot.

“I definitely jump up and down on the bench because I want to be out there, so I have to remember to stay off the court. I think we finally took control in the fourth quarter — we knew who to get out on and who wasn’t going to shoot. We got a few steals and got us going and moving.”

Notre Dame sophomore forward Kate Rubel recorded eight points, three assists, two steals and one block in the Bulldogs 46-44 win over Jackson Friday night in New Madrid. Photo by Jay Forness

While Lucious and Kate Rubel were on the bench in the third, a first-year varsity player like sophomore guard Mia Panton stepped up big off the bench, scoring four of her six overall points in the game. Along with that, Panton paced Lucious’ team-high six rebounds with four boards of her own and tied Brie Rubel with a team-high four assists.

Second-year varsity player junior guard Skylar Craft, who is now in the starting lineup, also came up big scoring wise for Notre Dame as she was her team’s fourth-leading scorer with seven points. Craft made the only other 3-pointer of the game for the Bulldogs outside of Brie Rubel.

Even though a first-year player for Notre Dame like Wagoner only scored two points against rival Jackson, her bucket came at a crucial time to give her team a 45-42 lead late. Olivia, who transferred from Delta, registered a game-high 17 points in the Bulldogs 54-36 win over Kennett in the semifinals the night before the championship game.

“[Wagoner] is amazing — she can play all of the positions almost, and we’re basically the same,” Kate said of her first-year teammate. “She does really well, and her offense is super great. She’s super positive — I love playing with her.”

To start the season in the conference quarterfinals, Kate Rubel recorded a team-high 15 points in Notre Dame’s 61-32 win over Poplar Bluff. Brie Rubel paced her twin sister with 13 points of her own as these two continue a dynasty for the Bulldogs that was started by their older sisters and current UT Martin basketball players Lexi and Tori Rubel.

“Winning the conference tournament means a lot because my sisters won it four times in a row,” Brie said. “To keep it going so far during our high school career, it’s really special and especially with this team.”

Kate added, “It’s definitely a lot of stress to win this tournament, but it means a lot once you do win it.”

After making a trip to the Class 5 Final Four last winter, Notre Dame is now in Class 4 and will play in the same district as Kennett and Dexter, which finished third and fourth in the conference tournament, respectively.

After next week where the Bulldogs won’t have a game, they will travel to Chaffee on Dec. 11 and Poplar Bluff Dec. 14. Notre Dame will then host reigning Class 5 State Champions Lutheran St. Charles on Dec. 18 before playing in the Visitation Christmas Tournament Dec. 23-28.

“I think we can still improve a lot since we’re just in the beginning of the season, but I think we have all the little aspects to be a great team,” Brie Rubel said. “We have great team chemistry, so I think we can go far.”

The Notre Dame girls basketball team takes the court to receive the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship trophy Friday night in New Madrid. Photo by Jay Forness

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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