Waterford faces unbeaten Notre Dame in regional semi

MIKE MORRISON The Marietta Times Waterford’s Hayley Duff, right, guards Fort Frye’s Kiersten Kesselring during a high school girls basketball game earlier this season in Beverly.

WATERFORD — All the Waterford Lady Wildcats have to do to win their 25th consecutive game and punch their ticket to the elite eight in the Division IV tournament is to beat a team that has won 25 consecutive games.

Thursday night in Jackson, the 24-1 Wildcats will take on 25-0 Portsmouth Notre Dame with the winner earning the right to travel to Pickerington Saturday night with a trip to the final four on the line.

The Jerry Close-coached Lady Wildcats are looking to make their fourth consecutive appearance in the state tournament but in order to do so they will have to find a way to deal with the Lady Titans who have a resume in 2017-2018 equally as impressive as Waterford.

Waterford began the season with a four-point loss to Parkersburg before running the table, including a one-point win last month over Division III powerhouse Minford, which was undefeated at the time, as well as yet another clean sweep of the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division for the fourth consecutive season.

The Wildcats are led by a pair of first-team All-Ohio performers in seniors Alli Kern (5-foot-10) and Megan Ball (5-11).

Kern has started every single game of her Wildcat career, making tonight’s game her 113th appearance on the hardwood donning the green and white.

This year Kern is averaging a team- high 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while Ball is averaging 14.5 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

Joining the two in the starting lineup for the ‘Cats likely will be junior Rachael Adams (9.5 ppg) as well as seniors Hayley Duff (4.9 ppg) and Hannah Duff (3.6 ppg).

Waterford’s record over the past four seasons stands at an incredible 104-8 which equates to a winning percentage of .929.

Key reserves for the Lady Wildcats include junior Emily Kern (5-6) and seniors Morgan Lang (5-10) and Kenzie Dietz (5-4).

Notre Dame is not short on impressive wins in its own right as it scored victories over Division II Greenfield-McClain as well as a trio of Division III schools in Ironton, Oak Hill and Nelsonville-York.

Leading the way for the J.D. McKenzie-coached Lady Titans are a pair of All-Ohio candidates in junior Katie Dettwiller (6-4) and senior Lexi Smith (6-0)

Both are averaging just shy of a double-double as Dettwiller is putting up 14.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game while Smith is accounting for 14.2 points and an even 9.0 boards per contest.

Freshman Ava Hassell has made quite an impression in her rookie campaign as she has played in all 25 games, averaging 10.1 points per game and 4.1 assists per game for Notre Dame.

Other key contributors for the Lady Titans are sophomore Taylor Schmidt (8.6 ppg.), senior Ali Smith (4.3 ppg.) and junior Clara Hash (3.4ppg.)

Portsmouth Notre Dame advanced to the sweet 16 with victories over Valley (57-27), Reedsville Eastern (44-32) and Peebles (53-29) while Waterford has breezed through the first three rounds with lopsided wins over Symmes Valley (81-18), Clay (52-20) and Glenwood (55-22).

The two have played a pair of common opponents in Eastern and Belpre with both scoring dominating wins against both Tri-Valley Conference schools.

Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to take on either Fairfield Christian Academy or Shenandoah Saturday evening at Pickerington North High School.