DAYTON – K.K. Bransford and her Mount Notre Dame teammates have rarely found themselves in the position they were in Saturday night.
But they found a way to overcome it.
The Newark defense held Bransford, an MND junior, in check most of the night on the scoring end.
The Division I Southwest District Player of the Year, however, willed her way to change that, scoring eight of her 21 points in the second overtime period to lead the Cougars to a 57-55 win over Newark in the Division I girls basketball championship game at UD Arena.
MND finishes 28-0 and extends its winning streak to 72 games, including the 2019 state final and an undefeated season in 2020 that didn’t include a state tournament because of the pandemic.
MND won its eighth state title all-time, breaking a tie for the state record with two other schools.
The Cougars were thinking all the way about last year’s seniors, who like so many others in the Class of 2020, saw their last high school athletic memory come in the form of a somber announcement canceling their season.
“It was so special,” MND senior Laila Phelia said. “72-0. That’s crazy. I’m just so happy about our team. We stuck together and we made it. We did it for our team from last year.”
Said Bransford: “It feels amazing, knowing what we went through this year with COVID and everything. We wanted this for our seniors and our seniors last year. We just kept fighting.”
Bransford hit two free throws in the second extra session, then powered her way to the rim for three-straight MND baskets. Newark guard Gwen Stare answered two of them with baskets, but Bransford’s third basket of the second OT gave MND a 57-55 lead.
MND stole the ball from Newark under MND’s defensive basket. Phelia missed the front end of a one-and-one bonus with under 10 seconds to play. Newark’s Maddie Vejicky, who hit four 3-pointers in the game, missed a three from the corner at the buzzer, and the Cougars erupted in joy.
“It feels amazing,” senior Autumn Crockett said. “It’s an unbelievable experience. It was nerve-wracking, especially going into double overtime, but we held our heads.”
Newark rallied from four points down with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Stare hit a three, and Vejicky hit a layup in the final seconds. Newark stole the ball at midcourt in the final seconds and Mady Stottsberry hit a layup, but clearly after the buzzer, and the teams went to OT.
Newark led 47-45 midway through the first OT. MND junior Abby Wolterman hit a jumper to tie it, her third and fourth points of the game.
With eight seconds to play, Bransford battled for an offensive rebound and scored on a layup to give MND a two-point lead. With no time outs, Newark raced down the floor. Stottsberry got behind the defense and made a layup before the buzzer this time to send the game to a second OT.
The two finalists had major stars in their arsenals. Bransford, a 5-11 junior, averages nearly 22 points per game and is in line to collect all-state honors.
Each team had a 2021 McDonald’s All-American nominee. MND boasted Phelia, a Michigan commit averaging 17 points per game, while Newark countered with Emma Shumate, a senior headed to play for West Virginia.
Bransford and Shumate were the focus of the other team’s defense. Bransford guarded Shumate most of the game, while the Wildcats often face-guarded Bransford with several defenders.
Bransford was 0-for-5 shooting in the first half but had five assists. She ended the game nearly recording a triple-double with 21 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, plus three steals and three blocks.
“She played out of her mind,” MND head coach Dr. Scott Rogers said. “We told her at halftime, ‘Just relax, they’re keying on you. That’s why you’re so good.’ She can handle it, and she did well. She didn’t force anything and she made some big baskets at the end, and she made a great defensive stand at the end.”
Shumate, a 6-foot-1 guard, was unstoppable on defense, blocking 13 MND shots to go along with 12 points, but the Cougars limited her to 4-of-13 shooting.
Phelia finished with 11 points, nine in the first half to help pick up Bransford. Senior Autumn Crockett scored nine points. She was 4-for-4 from the field, hitting three key second-half baskets.
Senior Cassidy Stainton scored nine points on three 3-pointers, including two in the fourth quarter. She also posted three assists. Wolterman and sophomore Taylor Stanley had eight rebounds apiece.
“At halftime, my teammates told me they need me. I really put that to heart,” Bransford said. “They had my back in the first half and I put myself together and showed up for them.”
About her 10 assists, Bransford added: That says a lot about my teammates. They were making shots and getting themselves in position.”
Newark led 14-9 after one quarter as Vejicky scored Newark’s first eight points. Newark led 19-14 in the second period on Shumate’s first field goal, a trey.
Phelia scored five points in the final 30 seconds, hitting a three to give MND a 21-20 lead at halftime.
Bransford scored all seven MND points in the third quarter, and Shumate had five for the Wildcats after recording her 10th block of the game. A layup by Bransford left the teams tied at 28 after three quarters.
A pair of threes by Stainton gave MND its biggest lead of the game, five, at 36-31. Vejicky hit a trey and Shumate tied it at 36 with two free throws.
As the Cougars prepared to leave UD Arena, Rogers named MND legend and former UConn star Mel Thomas plus other top Cougars in recent years as part of a continuing legacy.
“It’s so hard to win one,” he said. “We don’t take any of them for granted. When they come to Mount Notre Dame, they’re thinking ‘I want to wear the blue and white and I want to play on this stage and represent the school.’ All the great players we’ve had, I feel fortunate to be a part of it.”
MOUNT NOTRE DAME (28-0): Wolterman 2 0 4, Phelia 5 0 11, Bransford 7 7 21, Counts 1 0 3, Crockett 4 1 9, Stainton 3 0 9.
NEWARK (27-2): Shumate 4 2 12, Stottsberry 1 1 3, Vejicky 6 2 18, Stare 7 2 19, Lunsford 1 1 3.