LIBERTY TWP. — Madison French kept it simple Wednesday night.
“I felt like we knew what we were doing,” the Lakota East senior guard said. “I think our preparation is what did it for us.”
French scored a game-high 18 points, senior Savannah Smith chipped in with 13 and the Thunderhawks gritted their way past Division I state runner-up Mason for a 52-48 victory.
“We played as a team, and we supported each other,” French said. “When you do that, you can win some games.”
Added Smith, “The discipline and focus as a whole has a huge impact on how we play in a game. That showed tonight.”
Lakota East (6-1, 3-0 Greater Miami Conference), which has won two out of the last three meetings against its rival, owns a five-game winning streak.
The Thunderhawks have matched their best start since the 2011-2012 season.
“I’m just super proud of these kids and how focused they played,” Lakota East coach Dan Wallace said. “The prep work that they did, from the baseline out-of-bounds plays, rebounding, free throw shooting, everything.
“The kids knew what Mason was going to do, and they had themselves ready to play.”
Comets coach Rob Matula also kept it simple.
“When you play good teams and you don’t do the little things, you’re not going to win,” Matula said. “That was it. We got beat. We got beat by a team that wanted it more than us.”
Mason senior Carly Prows, who did most of her work in the second half, finished with a team-high 17 points and five rebounds.
“Coach Matula has built a tremendous program over there,” Wallace said. “He continually coaches them up really, really well. And in a game like this, you have to play really, really well.”
Lakota East turned its longest run into the largest lead of the game when sophomore Katlyn Pham’s old-fashioned 3-point play capped off a 14-3 spurt that gave the Thunderhawks a 26-15 advantage with 4:44 left in the second quarter.
Mason (5-1, 2-1 GMC) responded with a 17-3 run that spanned into the third quarter. Prows scored eight of her points during the run, including back-to-back buckets that gave the Comets a 32-29 lead with 7:07 left in the third.
That’s when both squads showed their grit and tenacity down the stretch, which resulted in trips to the free throw line.
It was the Thunderhawks who made their shots when it counted, though. Lakota East hit 9 of 10 from the line in the final quarter, including Brooke Asher’s four to seal it.
Mason only made 5 of 9 in the last 8 minutes.
Matula said Lakota East was more aggressive with the 50-50 balls and free throws were the difference-maker.
“I can’t stress it enough, the game is very simple,” Matula said. “If you make your free throws and rebound the basketball, you’re going to win close games.”
“In a game like this, I’m just so proud of how the girls battled it out,” Wallace said. “We’re going to build off this and keep getting better as a team.”
HITTING THE BOARDS
Wallace said his Thunderhawks hit the boards when they needed to.
“I think this was the best rebounding from a Lakota East team that I’ve seen,” said Wallace, whose squad pulled down nine more defensive boards (22-13) than Mason. “Our kids held their position and boxed out. There were a lot more extra plays that we got because of the extra effort and boxing out.
“We created a lot of deflections,” Wallace added. “When you create a lot of deflections, that ball is bouncing around on the floor a lot. Our kids do a tremendous job of just diving after it and laying their bodies out there and playing hard.”
Lakota East hosts Sycamore on Friday at 5:30 p.m., while Mason travels to Oak Hills on Saturday at 1:45 p.m.
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