Valparaiso was within two points of third-ranked Notre Dame with just 6:19 remaining before the Fighting Irish held off the late charge as the Crusaders dropped a 69-59 decision before 2,214 fans at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The Crusaders trailed by as many 12 in the first half, and were down 34-24 at intermission before mounting their comeback. Back-to-back baskets to start the half by Jenna Stangler (St. Michael, Minn./St. Michael-Albertville H.S.) and Betsy Rietema (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) cut the deficit to six within the first minute.
Valpo never made a large run, but instead chipped away slowly. The lead went back to nine again, 41-32, before Tamra Braun (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) made two free throws to cut it to five. Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) connected on a three-pointer with 13:02 remaining to pull within 45-41.
Jacqueline Batteast scored four of her game-high 25 points during an 8-2 Fighting Irish run that pushed the lead back to ten with just under eight minutes to play. Again the resilient Crusaders fought back. A Stangler jumper and four straight free throws by Rietema made it a four-point game. Rietema then drained a jumper at the 6:19 mark to pull within 53-51.
Following a Notre Dame timeout, Batteast took a lob inside for an easy basket to keep Valpo from tying the game. The deficit remained four, 57-53, with five minutes to play, but the Fighting Irish scored the next six points to take build a ten point lead which they would maintain as Megan Duffy made four free throws down the stretch.
Notre Dame (7-0) jumped off to a quick start as Batteast scored 11 of her team's first 13 points as the Fighting Irish built an early eight point lead just six minutes in. The lead grew to 12, 21-9, midway through, before Valpo scored seven straight points capped off by a Boone jumper to close within five. Duffy then scored seven straight Fighting Irish points to push the lead to 12 before half though.
Rietema led Valpo with 16 points, 14 in the second half during the comeback. Stangler added 14 on 6-of-10 shooting, while Braun scored a season-high 11 points. Boone dished out a game-high seven assists without committing a turnover.
Batteast added ten rebounds for Notre Dame to go along with her 25 points, while Duffy scored 20, including 6-of-6 from the line. Teresa Borton grabbed nine rebounds as the Fighting Irish held a 43-27 advantage on the boards, including an 18-11 edge on the offensive end. Notre Dame held a 17-6 advantage on second chance points.
Valpo hung tough by taking care of the basketball, committing just seven turnovers, while Notre Dame made ten miscues. Both teams shot 41% from the floor, with Notre Dame shooting a perfect 18-of-18 from the free throw line. Valpo struggled from beyond the three-point arc, making just 2-of-16 attempts.
The Crusaders will return to action on Saturday, as Valpo heads to Terre Haute, Ind. for the State Farm Hoosier State Classic. Valpo (1-3) will face Indiana State beginning at 11 a.m. CST.