FARMINGTON – The Central girls basketball team delivered the type of first-half performance on Tuesday night that most opponents could never recover from.
Notre Dame instead responded by invoking tougher defensive pressure that caused the Lady Rebels to panic, and completed a sure and steady comeback while moving one step closer to the final four.
The Bulldogs outscored Central 30-10 after intermission – including a shocking stretch of 11 ½ minutes between made field goals – and captured a 51-45 sectional playoff win.
Freshman forward Lexi Rubel compiled 15 points with 11 rebounds, and Riley Burger scored 14 points as Notre Dame (21-7) advanced to face Miller Career Academy on Saturday.
The reversal of fortunes proved sudden and drastic. Central (22-5) brilliantly surged ahead 35-21 at the break after shooting 61 percent from the field and 10-of-10 from the line.
Sophomore Sophia Horton netted a game-high 19 points with coaches from multiple colleges among the spectators, and capped the second quarter with a driving bank shot in the lane.
But the Lady Rebels suffered six costly turnovers in the third stanza, and would not register another field goal until Horton swished a 3-pointer with 5:40 remaining in the game.
Notre Dame reduced its maximum 16-point deficit to two before the quarter ended. Emily Kellum sparked the sustained rally with a corner triple.
Senior point guard Julia Williams, who missed the last 5:14 of the first half with three fouls, continued the momentum with a steal and outlet pass that sprang Megan Heisserer for a layup.
The Bulldogs struggled to knock down their early jump shots, but heated up by sinking three in a row. Burger connected on a short floater to make it 39-37 after Rubel received a friendly roll.
Rubel began the fourth quarter with a tying shot from the post, and Burger put Notre Dame in front for the first time at 41-39 with 6:10 to play.
Horton finally snapped the Central drought along the left wing, but Williams beat the Lady Rebels to the goal at 43-42 following another errant pass.
Notre Dame widened the gap from there as Rubel beat a fallen defender and Burger finished a strong drive that originated from the right elbow.
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The Lady Rebels waited more than five minutes for their next basket, and lost valuable time down the stretch with five fouls to give before finally putting their opponents in the bonus.
The Bulldogs gathered a couple of offensive rebounds to extend late possessions, and gave Central little room to operate by swarming to the ball.
Williams chipped in nine points and increased a 47-42 lead with four straight free throws, making a final 3-pointer by Horton inconsequential.
Central senior Callie Thurston compiled 10 points and eight rebounds in her final varsity contest before playing volleyball next season at Missouri Baptist University.
Kaley Kimball provided nine points, including a corner triple to begin the game, and Avery Norris made 7-of-8 free throws to comprise her scoring total for the Lady Rebels.
Central returned to the state playoffs against somewhat improbable odds. Three sophomores were pressed into starting roles after preseason knee surgery sidelined senior guard Kimmy Wallen.
Through 16 minutes on Tuesday night, it appeared that the Lady Rebels might avenge a regular season setback to Notre Dame in sparkling fashion.
Horton scored four separate times in the first quarter by gently finding creases in the defense and hitting contested shots off the dribble.
Central built an 11-3 advantage at the outset, then induced four turnovers during a promising 11-1 run after the Bulldogs had drawn to within 13-12 on a Rubel triple.
Norris dished to Kimball for a short jumper, Horton stopped and hit over a double team in the paint, and Thurston sank a 3-pointer to create a 24-13 lead.
Kimball answered a Kellam jumper from 13 feet, and Thurston struck again along a perimeter as a 31-17 margin equaled the largest separation of the night.
The Lady Rebels were 14-of-16 from the line overall, and posted their sixth consecutive 20-win season after competing in Class 3 last year.