Joe Smith, Local Sports, Sports, Trinity Christian

Trinity blows away halftime lead, loses to Notre Dame 52-44

MORGANTOWN — It’s still the opening week of play in West Virginia girls’ basketball, but for Trinity Christian, Friday was an important night.

The Warriors (1-1) hosted sectional foe Notre Dame (2-0) — a highly anticipated matchup between the 2018 Class A Section II finalists. The Warriors jumped out to a 23-20 first-half lead, but the Fighting Irish fought back to knock off the Warriors 52-44. A win could go a long way in determining seeding come the postseason, and help establish momentum in the section.

“This was a really big game for us. Us and Notre Dame. It’s always a close game every time we play, and it’s always a big crowd that comes out,” Trinity senior Reagan Sharp said. “We need to win to get the higher seed. If we can get our heads together and get our focus back, we can come back stronger.”

Last season, scheduling hurt the Warriors in a major way. They drew the Irish just once before seeding was voted upon for the sectional tournament.

“Last season, we ran into the problem where we played them once at the beginning of the season and we lost at home,” Trinity head coach Mike Baldy said. “We knew we wouldn’t play them again until after seeding was in. No matter what, we were going to be a two-seed at best.”

Barring unforeseeable circumstances, the Warriors won’t run into similar poor luck this year. The second game between the two rivals is slated for Jan. 9, well over a month before the sectional tournament.

“If anything, this is a learning experience. If we want to make it to the state championship and win a ring, we have to work and try our very hardest,” said senior Leighton Croft, who paced Trinity with her second-straight 15-point performance.

“If we don’t, someone else is going to go harder than us and take our spot. We have to understand that.”

Of course, Trinity proved just how little seeding can matter last February, marching into Clarksburg and knocking off Notre Dame to capture the sectional title and the opportunity to host its Region 1 co-final. For that reason, Notre Dame head coach Bob Martino isn’t reading too much into an opening-week game.

“It means nothing. We beat them twice last year, but they beat us in the game that counted,” he said. “This game is great for a confidence boost for our girls, just because of how good they are. But we’re not going to worry too much about sectionals yet.”

After starting the game on a 14-4 run, the Warriors appeared to collapse on the defensive end, as the Irish finished the half outscoring their host 16-9. From there, Notre Dame stormed to a seven-point lead in the third quarter and relinquished it just twice more.

“He got me. He got me pretty good tonight,” Baldy said of Martino. “Coaching wise – especially at halftime – I thought he out-adjusted me. It was a complete lapse on my part, and it really cost us.”

Sharp cited the team’s focus as a major issue on the court. As soon as the lead got sizeable in the first quarter, the comfort levels went up, and the rest of their play went downhill quickly.

“We have to focus more on the little things. We got up early in the first quarter, and we got too excited and stopped focusing on our little things,” she said. “It made a difference in the end.”

In the future, Baldy said he will focus in game prep on making sure the team is ready to play defensively.

“We do the shell drill every day in practice and we look like the best team in the state,” he said. “We came out tonight in the first quarter and we were playing just like we were doing the drill. We’re flying around, getting steals, denying passes and we’re really good.

“Then they go on a run, and we, defensively, fall apart. It starts with me. I’ve got to prepare them not to do that.”