Valparaiso hung with region foe Notre Dame to the bitter end on Tuesday evening but Breona Gray's free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining gave the Fighting Irish a 60-59 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center in front of 1,472 fans.
In a game that saw five ties and seven lead changes, Valpo's Betsy Rietema (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) capped a Crusader comeback attempt with an old-fashioned three-point play with 25.3 seconds to play to tie the game at 59. The Valpo defense was tough, not allowing a shot until Gray got open underneath and was fouled allowing the Fighting Irish to escape with the victory.
Valpo trailed by seven, 32-25, with just over 18 minutes to play before back-to-back triples by Carrie Myers (Stickleyville, Va./Lee H.S.) brought the Brown and Gold within one. A Rietema three with 14:24 to play gave Valpo the lead for the first time since 2-0 and another Myers three increased the advantage to two on the next possession.
Notre Dame answered with a 9-2 run to rebuild a five-point advantage, what would be their largest the rest of the way. The Crusaders again battled back, retaking the lead on a Rietema jumper with 8:26 to go, but that would be Valpo's last advantage.
With the Fighting Irish up three and with the ball, Rietema registered a steal and a score to cut the deficit to one, 57-56, with 1:15 to play. Melissa D'Amico answered in the paint to put Notre Dame back up three with 47 seconds left, setting up the thrilling finish.
Valpo started slow out of the gate in the first half, making just two of its first 18 shots from the floor. Solid defense, Valpo forced nine first half turnovers, kept the Crusaders in the game, but Notre Dame built a 15-7 advantage with nine minutes left in the first half. Back-to-back threes by Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph's H.S.) and Rietema cut the deficit to two and Sanna Helenius (Vantaa, Finland/Makelanrinteen Lukio H.S.) tied the contest awith a runner in the lane.
The visitors built the lead back up though, and held an eight-point advantage with a minute to go before intermission before Valpo closed with a 4-0 run capped by a Helenius basket at the buzzer, cutting the Crusaders deficit to 28-24 at the break.
Rietema led Valpo with 22 points, moving into a tie for 11th place on Valpo's career scoring list with 992 points. She needs just eight more to become the 11th Crusader in school history to reach the 1,000 point plateau. Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) added 10 points and five rebounds while Sarah Ott (Chippewa Falls, Wis./Chippewa Falls H.S.) grabbed a team-high six boards for the Crusaders while playing all 40 minutes.
Charel Allen led Notre Dame (8-3) with 18 points and eight rebounds while D'Amico and Ashley Barlow each had 12 points. The Fighting Irish held a 34-18 advantage scoring in the paint.
Valparaiso (4-6) will return to action on Thursday as the Crusaders host Central Michigan at the ARC. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m. with all the action carried live on WVUR (95.1-FM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.