The Lakota West High School girls basketball team had a few things working in its favor Wednesday, but it still wasn’t enough to get past Mason.
Despite playing most of the game without starter Samari Mowbray and struggling with free throws, the Comets ended West’s season for a second straight year, handing the Firebirds a 44-43 loss in a Division I regional semifinal at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
Mason (24-3), ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press state poll, had split games with second-ranked West (24-3) in the regular season — as the teams shared the Greater Miami Conference title — after the Comets advanced to the Final Four last year at the Firebirds’ expense.
Sammie Puisis scored 13 points to lead Mason.
“That says something about the mettle of this team,” Comets coach Rob Matula said. “They believe and they keep fighting, and when we have everyone fighting and we’re throwing kids out there, they are just doing everything they can physically and emotionally. And when you do that, you’re going to put yourself in position to win.”
The game wasn’t without its usual drama, being the third matchup in the series this season decided by three points or less.
Mason, which lost Mowbray to a wrist injury midway through the opening period, seemed to have the upper hand through the middle portion of the game, leading by as many as eight points with nine minutes left, but the Firebirds found a way back in.
After Ally Haar made it a six-point game with 12 seconds left in the third quarter, Jasmine Ballew intercepted a pass off the in-bounds play and drained a 3-pointer for her second buzzer-beater of the game, cutting Mason’s lead to 32-29. Ballew finished with 10 points.
The Comets managed to maintain the lead for the remainder of the contest, but Madisyn Oxley converted a three-point play with 37 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game and Abby Prohaska, who finished with 13 points, made a layup with 15.6 seconds left for the final score.
Even after that, West had two more chances thanks to turnovers and couldn’t get the game-winning basket to drop.
“We struggled throughout the game, and because we failed to execute and make easy shots, we put ourselves in a hole,” West coach Andy Fishman said. “I’m so proud of the way we battled back from the poor shooting and the poor footwork defensively, putting them on the free-throw line so many times. I loved the way we crashed the boards on the offensive glass, but again, we didn’t convert those into points like we typically do. At the end of the day, we had our chances and we’ve got to learn from it.”
West had a 12-8 edge going into the second quarter, but the offense stalled after that as the Firebirds shot just 25.8 percent from the field for the first half, and Mason was able to take control from there. The Comets took the lead at 14-12 and never again trailed, despite going just 18 of 32 from the free-throw line.
“It’s going to be tough,” Fishman said of the season ending. “There’s going to be a void wanting to continue, but there’s also that taste in your mouth that you want another opportunity.”
Mason will meet Mount Notre Dame for the regional championship Saturday. MND edged McAuley 37-36 in Wednesday’s opener.
WEST (24-3): Madisyn Oxley 1 0 2, Sarah Jones 3 0 7, Ally Haar 2 0 4, Jasmine Ballew 4 2 10, Nevaeh Dean 3 1 7, Abby Prohaska 5 1 13. Totals: 18-2-43
MASON (23-3): Saylor Norton 1 1 3, Megan Wagner 1 2 4, Samari Mowbray 1 0 2, Makenzie Dixon 1 1 3, Sammie Puisis 4 5 13, Anna Brinkmann 2 6 10, Grace Dawes 3 3 9. Totals: 13-18-44
3-pointers: L 5 (Ballew 2, Prohaska 2, Jones)