The state championship dream remains alive for Lakota West High School’s girls basketball team.
The Firebirds captured their third Division I regional title in the last eight years Saturday night, fighting off Mount Notre Dame 60-53 in an epic clash at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
“Oh my goodness gracious. It’s just an amazing feeling the way the girls scraped and clawed,” West coach Andy Fishman said. “These guys are so heroic and give so much of themselves. I’m just so happy for them. They make every day of the journey the best day of my life.”
Danielle Wells (16), Lauren Cannatelli (13), Nia Staples (11) and Abby Prohaska (9) paced the scoring for the Firebirds (26-2), who pushed their winning streak to 19.
West will travel to the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Friday, facing Newark (27-1) in an 8 p.m. state semifinal.
“It’s amazing to just be rewarded for working our butts off all season,” said Prohaska, a freshman. “When we come out and we play as hard as we can, I don’t feel like anybody can stop us. As (Fishman) usually says, our best is better than anybody else’s best.
“It’s honestly an honor to be this young and being almost a state champion. I will be the happiest person and my dream will come true when we become state champions in a week.”
The Firebirds’ pressure played a big role against MND (24-3), which handed West a 54-50 defeat on Dec. 1.
“We didn’t always get steals, but they threw the ball away a lot,” Fishman said. “That’s what we try to do. We try to make things uncomfortable for our opponents.”
The Cougars got a star performance from University of Michigan-bound Naomi Davenport, who collected 26 points and 15 rebounds.
But MND committed 23 turnovers and shot 38.8 percent from the field, sinking just 2 of 16 shots beyond the arc. The Firebirds scored 26 points off turnovers — the Cougars scored two.
“Credit Lakota West,” MND coach Scott Rogers said. “They’ve got five really athletic kids playing hard, and they’re tough to beat. You better be on your game, and we weren’t on it tonight.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well. We didn’t make easy shots when we had ’em. It’s tough to beat a team that talented when you really only have one player that’s able to break anybody down and get to the basket.”
He believes West will secure its first state championship.
“We thought if we could get by this one we’d have a good shot, and I think that’s probably what’s going to happen,” Rogers said. “This was probably the state championship game, with all due respect to whoever’s in that Final Four. Lakota West I think will prevail, and I hope it stays in Cincinnati. I’m proud of how Andy handled it tonight.”
It was a back-and-forth heavyweight battle, with the Firebirds taking the lead for good (50-48) on two Cannatelli free throws with 5:39 left.
West’s landing wasn’t entirely smooth, but the winners converted 6 of 10 foul shots in the last four minutes. The Cougars failed to score in the final 72 seconds.
“We were in so much foul trouble, we had to mix it up defensively and do some things we really haven’t done,” Fishman said. “Going to our pack defense, our matchup at the end, really threw them. It slowed them down. They didn’t see the same dribble lanes, and the girls stuck with it and executed it to perfection.
“A lot of the things that we intended to do didn’t always work. You’ve got to be resilient. You’ve got to be able to change things up. We made mistakes, and we rebounded from them. You’ve got to have a very, very short memory in this game.”
Wells scored nine points in the fourth period for the Firebirds, who were 17 of 28 at the foul line. MND was 13 of 21.
“Right time, right place, I guess,” Wells said of her late surge. “I think we’re really good at keeping our composure. They may go on a run, but we really don’t get frazzled. We all pretty much believe in our system and what we’re trying to do. We knew they’d come out hard. We just came out harder.”
Said Fishman, “D. Wells had a stretch there where she just took over the game. So gutsy.”
Wells totaled eight rebounds and Lexi Wasan scored seven points for West.
The Firebirds had 14 steals, led by Prohaska (four) and Wells (three). Arianne Whitaker contributed three points, four boards and four blocks.
Cannatelli said the electric atmosphere and energetic crowd of about 2,000 made the night special.
“Oh my gosh, the excitement in this place is crazy,” she said. “We always had faith in ourselves, and now we’re going to state. It’s unbelievable. The state championship has been our goal since the first day of tryouts.”
The Cougars did earn a 43-26 advantage on the glass. Abbie Scholz had seven rebounds, while Abby Weeks tossed in 13 points.
“Being behind didn’t allow us to do a whole lot defensively other than just grind,” Rogers said. “I’m extremely proud of how they hung in there and just gutted it out. They’ve had an unbelievable year by any standards, especially our standards.”
Both state semifinals will be played Friday in Columbus. The West-Newark game will be preceded by Solon vs. Toledo Notre Dame at 6 p.m. The title will be decided Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
In 2008, West defeated Youngstown Boardman 62-42 and then lost to MND 69-67 in the final. The Firebirds suffered a 61-56 loss to Toledo Start in the 2009 semifinals.
Mount Notre Dame 15-19-12-7—53
Lakota West 15-20-13-12—60
MOUNT NOTRE DAME (24-3): Maddy South 1 1 4; Naomi Davenport 10 6 26; Blair Carlin 1 2 5; Abbie Scholz 1 0 2; Dani Kissel 1 0 2; Abby Weeks 5 3 13; Maria Pisciotta 0 1 1. Totals: 19-13-53.
LAKOTA WEST (26-2): Danielle Wells 5 5 16; Lauren Cannatelli 3 6 13; Arianne Whitaker 1 1 3; Lexi Wasan 3 1 7; Abby Prohaska 3 3 9; Nia Staples 5 0 11; Sarah Jones 0 1 1. Totals: 20-17-60.
3-pters: MND 2 (South, Carlin), LW 3 (Wells, Staples, Cannatelli)