Before their regular-season finale Saturday, the Mason and Lakota West girls basketball teams lined up at midcourt and, in a show of sportsmanship, formed by alternating players from each team the letter “M” – which, of course, was a “W” from the other side of the court.
Then they went out and produced what has become their usual gritty battle.
Sophomore Alanna Carter, starting in place of flu-ridden junior Sammie Puisis, scored a career-high 19 points and senior Tihanna Fulton just missed a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds as Mason pulled away in the last three minutes to a 61-54 win over the Firebirds, snapping their 20-game winning streak and forging the second consecutive Greater Miami Conference co-championship between the two teams.
“I was kind of nervous at first,” said Carter, who ably filled in for Puisis, the GMC’s second-leading scorer. “Sammie’s our best player. Everybody had to step up. We needed energy, and we all brought that today.”
“I definitely felt like I needed to step up a little bit,” Fulton said.
Senior Anna Brinkmann scored eight of her nine points in the second half, including a wide-open layup off a sideline inbounds play following a timeout that gave Mason (19-3, 15-1) — ranked ninth in the latest Associated Press Division I statewide poll — the lead for good at 54-53 with 2:28 left in the game. Carter sank a free throw, one of Mason’s 20 to Lakota West’s eight, junior Sade Tucker connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Fulton and Tucker each made a free throw to complete the Comets’ game-ending 9-1 run.
The margin of victory matched the total of the previous four games between the two teams, each of which won two. Mason coach Rob Matula pointed out that Carter missed the first game, a 51-50 Lakota West win in December, after suffering a concussion in a practice collision with Puisis.
“I think we’re a more-complete team,” said Matula, whose team has won 14 straight games. “We’re just starting to jell. Every kid who stepped on that floor did what they were supposed to do.”
Senior guard Sarah Jones and senior wing Abby Prohaska each scored 13 points to lead No. 2 Lakota West (20-2, 15-1), which saw a 20-game winning streak snapped with its first loss of the season to an Ohio team and its first loss since the opener.
“Most of our games the past three or four years have been very close,” Firebirds coach Andy Fishman said. “It hasn’t mattered who’s played or who hasn’t. In 2016, we beat them twice without Abby and then they beat us in the tournament. Give Mason credit. They outplayed us. I appreciated the intensity. We have to play harder. We have to play smarter.”
The teams could meet again in the Division I regional final. Top-seeded Lakota West, which has won outright or shared the last four GMC titles, is scheduled to open the tournament on Wednesday against 31st-seeded Withrow at Lakota East. Third-seeded Mason, playing in another Lakota East sectional, has a first-round bye before meeting the winner of 25th-seeded Mount Healthy and 22nd-seeded Milford on Feb. 21.
The teams combined for 39 turnovers, including 25 in a first half that ended with Mason leading, 27-26. Carter scored 11 points to lead the Comets in the first half, while senior Sarah Jones scored 10 to help the Firebirds stay in the game.
The teams combined for eight tie scores before halftime, one fewer than they finished their entire game with in December.
Lakota West led for much of the third quarter before Mason put together an 11-2 run capped by Carter’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds left for a 46-42 lead going into the fourth quarter.
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