Notre Dame’s perfect season came crashing to end when Avon clinched the Class C1 Semifinals, 60-58.
The Fighting Irish entered the contest at 19-0 on the season, looking to win their second straight sectional championship after making it to the New York State Class D Semifinals last season. But this season they moved up to Class C and the Braves proved to be too much to handle.
“We knew it was going to be tougher,” said Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Rapone. “Even though they moved us up a class, we still have the student body of a Class D school. It showed tonight. They had a little more depth, a little more physicality, a few more big kids than we had, and it was the difference in the game.”
In the first quarter, it appeared as if top-seeded Notre Dame would take control of the game, but Avon cut the deficit to three on a buzzer-beating shot off an inbound play by Zack Rizzolo to end the first quarter.
The Braves would carry that momentum into the second as they scored the first seven points of the frame.
Not to be outdone, the Irish responded with a 13-4 run of their own to recapture the lead heading into halftime, 29-26.
The third quarter belonged to the star players on each team.
Avon’s Zach Mouw started the second half red-hot, scoring 12 of his team’s first 13 points of the frame, however Notre Dame’s Tim McCulley responded by scoring 12 of the team’s 18 points in the quarter.
“Tim did a nice job,” Rapone said. “They were really pressing hard to take (McCulley, Tommy Prospero and Jared Thornton) out of the game. Tim did what he had to do, he found the gaps and he got inside.”
Mouw had 22 points midway through the third quarter, including connecting on four shots in a row, before Rapone matched Thornton on him in an attempt to take him out offensively.
Mouw did not score a point the rest of the game, but Avon’s role players began to step up, particularly on the boards, as the Braves racked up four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone.
“It was something I was concerned about, but the main reason it happened was because we had to switch defenses to stop Mouw,” Rapone said. “We had to pick our poison.”
Avon took the lead with three minutes to play after Galen Snyder scored off a Mouw pass and drew a foul in the process. Freshman Gerad Coyne would then connect on a three-pointer from the wing with 2:40 to play, putting the Braves up by six.
The Irish would then storm back, getting two quick baskets from McCulley to cut the lead to two with just over a minute to play.
Coyne would appear to step out of bounds on the ensuing possession, but Avon was granted a timeout, allowing them to run the clock down to 30 seconds before turning the ball back over to Notre Dame.
McCulley was fouled on the next trip down the floor in what appeared to be the game-tying lay-in, but the basket was waved off, forcing the Irish to inbound from underneath.
“We thought Tim had the game-tying basket but it was waved off,” Rapone said. “Calls are calls and the officials make them. You have to live with it and move on.”
Ryan Bender appeared to have an easy lay-up with 10 seconds left, but Tyler Hite rescued the Braves with a game-saving blocked shot.
Prospero would get one last heave at the basket but was unsuccessful as their season came to end.
Mouw led the way for fifth-seed Avon (14-7) with 22 points, seven rebounds and two steals as they advance to the Class C1 Finals on Saturday to play Mynderse at the Blue Cross Arena.
McCulley led Notre Dame (19-1) in a losing effort with 22 points and eight rebounds, while Prospero added 15 points, four rebounds and four assists.
In girls basketball, Batavia beat Pal-Mac 71-68. Madison McCulley scored 30 points and Tiara Filbert added 21 with nine rebounds. Essence Williams also had nine rebounds.