Valparaiso gave the ninth ranked (AP and Coaches poll) Fighting Irish of Notre Dame all they could handle Wednesday evening, before eventually falling 74-68 in front of more than 1,500 fans at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Notre Dame jumped out to an early 17-8 lead seven minutes into the game, only to see the Crusaders hang around and claw back into the game late in the half. Trailing by eight, 26-18, with 4:21 to play, Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) and
Suzie Hammel (Lafayette, Ind./Lebanon H.S.) hit back-to-back three-pointers to close within two. Boone was playing in her first game of the season after recovering from surgery on her leg in early November.
Valpo had the lead to within one, 29-28, in the final minute of the first half before Le'Tania Severe made a pair of free throws. Hammel's three-point attempt to tie the game at intermission rattled around but did not fall and Notre Dame held a 31-28 lead at intermission.
Valpo committed just three turnovers in the opening half and shot just 36.4% from the floor, but picked up ten offensive rebounds to aid in the cause. Hammel scored 15 first half points, 13 in the final 6:25 of the stanza.
Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) made a pair of free throws, closing Valpo within one, to open the second half before the Fighting Irish ran off 11 straight points in three minutes.
The lead grew to as many as 14, 51-37, with 11:50 to play. Kathryn Knoester (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) scored and was fouled, and Meredith Baugher (Berea, Ohio/Berea H.S.) added a lay-in to cut the lead to single digits before Notre Dame pushed the lead back to 13, 57-44, with 9:29 left.
Valpo continued to fight, cutting the lead to six, 70-64, with 1:25 to play after a Knoester triple, but would get no closer than the final margin. Notre Dame made its living at the free throw line in the second half, though, connecting 23 times to preserve the victory.
Hammel led Valpo with 17 points and four assists, while Knoester added 14 points off of the bench. Boone tallied 13 points in her first game back, while Jeanette Gray (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) added 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Alicia Ratay led Notre Dame with 21 points, including 6-of-9 from the field, while Le'Tania Severe added 15 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the line, and five assists. Katy Flecky and Jacqueline Batteast added 13 points each for the visitors.
The Fighting Irish outrebounded Valpo 36-31, but the Crusaders held a 16-11 advantage on the offensive glass. Notre Dame went 30-of-40 from the foul line, while the Brown and Gold converted 13 times in just 18 chances.
Valparaiso (2-4) will return to action on Saturday afternoon when the Crusaders travel to Indianapolis, Ind. for the Hoosier State Classic. Valpo will face Ball State at 1 p.m. CST on the campus of Butler University.