POTTSVILLE — The Spartans thought they had the right game plan, but the plan never quite came together.

Aaron Bailey scored a team-high 18 points and Shawn Seay added 13, but No. 3 Notre Dame East Stroudsburg fell 71-54 to No. 1 Nativity BVM in the District 11 Class 1A boys basketball championship game on Saturday afternoon at Martz Hall in Pottsville.

The Spartans (12-13) fell behind by double digits in the second quarter, and despite multiple defensive stops, never found a way to cut back into the Hilltoppers’ advantage.

“We turned the ball over a little bit too much, but they really hurt us on the backboard,” Notre Dame coach Bob Mullen said. “The two kids inside were really tough to handle, and we also didn’t shoot the ball very well.

“I actually thought we were wide open a couple of times, especially when we went to the baseline. We had a lot of open opportunities. We just didn’t make them.”

The two kids Mullen referred to were Nativity’s 6-foot-5 sophomore Marquis Ratcliffe and 6-6 junior Kegan Hertz, who scored 20 and 24 points respectively. The two were a defensive menace to the Spartans all game and drove to the lane on offense. Worse for Notre Dame was Hertz’s ability to shoot from outside, hitting two 3-pointers as well.

Ratcliff’s wingspan proved nearly impossible for Spartan players to dart around when trying to put up a shot.

“He can get so many shots,” Mullen said. “Even shots he doesn’t block, he can redirect. He’s 6-5 and long. We just have to do a much better job defensively.”

The Hilltoppers played an aggressive, physical game, which Notre Dame didn’t shy away from. The problem, though, was that Seay played the second half limited by three first-half fouls. He eventually fouled out with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter.

“It’s huge,” Mullen said. “He just had a tough game. We’re asking him to cover (Hertz), and actually, he did a pretty decent job on him. And then when you get fouls like that, it’s hard even offensively because you don’t want to pick up charges.”

This game was a rematch of the 2018-19 district final, which the Spartans came away with. Both rosters this time around were full of youth, each sporting just one senior per team.

With such a young program, Mullen believed he can use Saturday’s loss a teaching moment for Notre Dame entering the PIAA Class 1A state tournament, which begins Friday.

“They (Nativity) really hurt us on the backboard,” Mullen said. “We focus on boxing out, but they’re so quick to the basketball that that’s something we have to work on. Sometimes you’re boxing out but just not good enough. You’ve really got to hold the box out for kids that are really athletic.”

The Spartans move on to face Sullivan County, the No. 3 seed from District 4, in the first round of states. Mullen said he separates the season three ways – the regular season, the district playoffs and now states.

“We’re going to go into season three here,” Mullen said. “So hopefully we can take some things from this game and try to apply them for the next game and try to get the first state game on Friday.”

District 11 Class 1A Boys Basketball Championship

No. 1 Nativity BVM 71, No. 3 Notre Dame ES 54

Notre Dame ES 13 8 15 18 - 54

Nativity BVM 19 13 21 18 - 71

Notre Dame ES 54

Bailey 6 5-8 18, Seay 5 3-6 13, Hardy 5 1-2 12, Natale 2 0-0 6, Saicharoen 1 0-0 2, Wolf 0 0-0 0, Torres 0 0-0 0, Medina 0 0-0 0, Quijada 1 0-0 3. Totals: 20 9-16 54.

Nativity BVM 71

Chiplonia 1 0-0 3, Walborn 1 1-2 3, Piccioni 0 0-0 0, Spolski 0 0-0 0, Kuperavage 2 0-0 5, Hoffman 2 1-1 5, Miller 4 0-0 9, Sickle 0 0-0 0, Ratcliff 8 3-4 20, Hertz 8 6-8 24. Totals: 26 13-23 71.

3-pointers: NDES 5 (Natale 2, Bailey, Hardy, Quijada); NAT 6 (Hertz 2, Chiplonia, Kuperavage, Miller, Ratcliff).