CLARKSBURG — On a night when Taylor Martino reached a major milestone, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish cleared a significant hurdle: The Tucker County Mountain Lions.
“I was really nervous for it, but I was ready to get it. It’s a reward for all of the hard work that not only I put in, but my coaches put in, especially my dad, and coach Jarrod West helping me ever since I was wee little,” Taylor Martino said. “My teammates played such a good game. It was a good effort by everyone.”
“It’s great,” Notre Dame coach, and Taylor’s father, Bob Martino said. “As a coach, I wanted to get it over as quickly as possible. As a dad, I look back on it and enjoy it more now that we’re not in the middle of a game. I’m proud of her. She works so hard.”
All 59 points came from Notre Dame’s starters: Emilee Henderson added 13 points and four steals, Amelia Angotti tallied 10 points, Bailee Yokum finished with eight points and nine rebounds and Emma McKeen chipped in a bucket, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“People are going to look down the stat sheet and see Taylor with 26 points, but the things that Bailee did, just getting on the floor, getting rebounds, she was everywhere tonight. Amelia handled the ball, we had good free throw shooting, all of that stuff,” coach Martino said. “Taylor’s 1,000th point tonight…that’s her teammates’ reward.
“I love all of my team, but my starting five can hang with anybody.”
Tucker County (0-1), playing its season opener and missing the services of second-team all-stater Terra Kuhn due to injury, was led by nine points from Riley Evans and eight from Katelyn Surguy.
Kelcee James tallied seven points and seven rebounds and Aliyah Plum added six points and nine rebounds.
Notre Dame got off to a dream start as a jumper from Angotti and a 3 and two free throws by Martino put them in front, 7-0.
“I told them in the locker room before the game, let’s make sure we play the girls with the names on the back and not worry about the one on the front because Tucker’s had our number for many years. The last time we beat them was in the state tournament in Taylor’s freshman year,” coach Martino said. “I hope the girls realize that we’re as good as anybody. I’m really proud of all of them.”
Tucker County responded with a 7-0 run of its own as Mckinley Murphy scored all of her five points for the game.
An 8-2 Mountain Lions run gave Tucker a 15-12 lead, then Martino went over 1,000 points on a leaner inside, putting an arm in the air in celebration as she ran towards the ND bench on the other end of the floor.
“I’m glad I can be more physical now and be a presence inside and outside,” Taylor Martino said.
The game was stopped for a brief ceremony, complete with balloons for each digit of 1,000.
Tucker County, though, looked on their way to spoiling the occasion, leading 17-14 after one period and 19-14 after a basket early in the second quarter.
Notre Dame crept within one on a McKeen layup, then, after a Surguy jumper, the Irish scored the next seven points of the game at the free throw line.
Notre Dame led at the half, 28-23.
The second half was all Irish.
Notre Dame scored the first 13 points of the third quarter, the final eight from Martino, to take a commanding lead.
“It felt so good,” Taylor Martino said. “I can’t tell you one person on the team that played badly. Bailee did all of the little things. Emma drove well. Emilee played great at the top. Amelia handled the ball so well. As a team, this is great for us. Great confidence-booster.”
It was a 46-30 game after three quarters.
Tucker County got within 13 on a James hoop-and-harm to begin the period, but no closer.
The Irish led by as many as 21 in the fourth and were able to give Martino a curtain call with 1:06 left, the senior departing to a hug from her father/coach.
“That was nice,” coach Martino said. “Usually against Tucker, we’re down by 20 at the end.”
Another tough test looms for Notre Dame on Monday at home against Lewis County at 7 p.m., while Tucker County is home against Charleston Catholic on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Sports editor Michael Minnich can be reached at 304-626-1441, by e-mail at email@example.com, or on Twitter @michaelminnich.