ASHWAUBENON — When the Notre Dame girls basketball team captured the 2013 Division 2 state title it rode the legs of the “Big Three,” Allie LeClaire, Eliza Campbell and Brianna Byrne.
Friday, the Tritons returned to the state tournament but this season they had been led by the “Big Two,” LeClaire and Campbell.
The twosome had been good enough to win 25 of 26 games but sometimes in the state tournament you need another player to step up to win the biggest games of the season.
Friday, Olivia Campbell was that player. The sophomore played her best game of her young career, scoring 14 points, adding four assists and three steals, while ballhawking Pius XI’s best player, Gabby Green.
Campbell, along with her sister and LeClaire helped lead the Tritons to a 50-47 win at the Resch Center, setting up a championship game Saturday against DeForest.
“Going into the tournament I was like, ‘You know you’re going to have to step up,’” Eliza Campbell said. “We were told that they always face guard the best player. We kind of knew they were going to face guard Allie.
“’Livvy’ hit some really huge shots, especially the fourth quarter, that ‘and-one,’ we really got hyped up on that one. So I’m really proud of her right now.”
“The defense is really important because that’s how you win games,” Olivia Campbell said. “Scoring, I just shot when I’m open, which I really don’t do a lot, but I knew it had to happen.”
LeClaire entered the game averaging 21.1 points per game but was handcuffed in the first half, scoring just three points. However, the Campbell’s combined for 18 points, with Olivia scoring 10 as Notre Dame led, 25-20.
What aided the Tritons in the first half besides the Campbells was the defense. Notre Dame scored 18 points off 12 turnovers as their pressure was relentless.
“We work on our press every day in practice and that’s something we take pride in,” Eliza Campbell said. “We kind of depend on it. We were able to cause turnovers and able to covert out of it.”
Notre Dame built a 30-20 lead early in the third quarter and looked to be on pace for a state final berth. However, the Lady Popes handled the pressure better in the second half and started cutting into the lead.
Eventually, Pius (24-3) grabbed a 43-41 lead, but Notre Dame was not to be denied. First, Caroline Pettijean scored inside to tie the game and then LeClaire scored on a layup.
Olivia Campbell, the Fox River Classic Conference’s defensive player of the year, then put a cap on a 7-0 run with a 3-point play to give the Tritons a 48-43 lead. From there, it was just a matter of time before the Tritons punched their ticket for their second straight state title game.
“I’m just very happy with the way our girls responded especially in the fourth quarter, when we got down a few points,” Rohde said. “Had a couple players step up and make huge shots, Olivia Campbell and Caroline Pettijean. It was a complete team effort on our part.”
Notre Dame (26-1) plays at 6:35 p.m. Saturday and believes its experience at the state tournament will be a benefit.
“I think it is easier knowing that we have been here three times,” LeClaire said. “Two years ago we lost in the semis so I think last year winning the gold ball gives us more motivation. We want to repeat so we’re excited for tomorrow.”
Notes: Eliza Campbell scored 12 points and had eight assists, while LeClaire added 12 points, five steals and three assists. … Pius outrebounded Notre Dame, 28-16. … Notre Dame was 19 of 36 from the field (52.8 percent).
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay