Once the heat wave started, winning became inevitable for Lakota West High School’s girls basketball team.
Fairmont jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first two minutes, but West’s defensive pressure and athleticism soon took over and led to a 53-29 victory Saturday afternoon in a Division I district final at Princeton.
It was the fifth straight district championship for the Firebirds (24-2), who will meet Walnut Hills (25-1) in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
“We just keep pushing,” sophomore forward Nevaeh Dean said. “We’re all in it together. It’s the high school musical they can say. We just love each other, so I feel we play really well together.”
“We pressured them and had high intensity and just played our game,” senior guard Ally Haar added. “It was (the seniors’) fourth district championship, but it didn’t matter. We just went in there and killed it.”
Haar scored a season-high 14 points and Jasmine Ballew tossed in 10 for West in the battle of Firebirds. Jaydis Gales and Dean contributed 7 points apiece, Dean had six rebounds, Madisyn Oxley totaled 6 points, four caroms and three steals, and Abby Prohaska marked 4 points, nine boards, three assists and three steals.
Prohaska became West’s all-time leader in assists with 270. She’s now two ahead of Nia Staples, currently a redshirt freshman at West Virginia University.
West took the lead for good (12-11) on a Ballew layup just before the end of the first quarter. By halftime, the score was 27-17. Heading into the last period, it was 41-25.
“We have a number of different girls who consistently impact games, so it’s never about one person,” West coach Andy Fishman said. “Our ability to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves on both ends of the ball … those are the things that really good teams do. And we’re trying to get better every day.”
Haar sank 3-pointers at the end of the second and third stanzas. She was 4 of 6 from the field in the second-highest scoring game of her career — the Niagara University recruit had 18 points against Hamilton as a junior.
“I was just making plays,” Haar said. “I was trying to help my teammates. We work extremely hard in practices, and we just show that in the games.”
Fishman was especially pleased with Dean’s interior defense against 6-foot-3 Fairmont sophomore Madison Bartley, who had 6 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
“I thought Nevaeh did an incredible job making post entries next to impossible,” Fishman said. “She did a great job with her footwork, and then getting touches on the ball really helped our defense.”
The 6-1 Dean said it was a group effort by the West defense.
“She was much taller than me, so I just had to be lower and be a little more physical,” Dean said. “I had to stay in front, and my teammates help me dig when I need it. Or when they lob it, they’ll always be there for help, so I have a lot of faith that they’ll be there.”
Fairmont (17-9) got 10 points and eight rebounds from Mali Morgan-Elliott. Playing without double-double forward Madeline Westbeld, Lacy Drake’s squad shot 34.4 percent from the floor and committed 20 turnovers.
“Handling pressure has kind of been our downfall,” Drake said. “Lakota West is phenomenal. We respect everything they do. The way they play, their pace, their pressure constantly. I think we came out strong, but they did wear us down a little bit. We just kind of got out of our game plan, and before you know it, it’s a 20-point game. It happens fast.”
Drake believes the future is bright for her Firebirds.
“We’re young,” she said. “If you look at our roster, we have three, four sophomores on the floor at the same time, a freshman on the floor, a junior starter. So if you look at where we started and getting to this point and improvement from last year, we’re definitely on the right track.”
The D-I regional will be an all-Cincinnati affair. Mason and Mount Notre Dame will play in Wednesday’s second semifinal at 8 p.m., and the regional final is set for next Saturday at 7 p.m. at Trent Arena.
Southwest Ohio has won four of the last five D-I state titles: Fairmont in 2013, Princeton in 2014, West in 2015 and MND in 2017. Wadsworth took the title in 2016.
Lakota West 12-15-14-12—53
FAIRMONT (17-9): Kierra Thornton 0 1 1, Olivia Frank 1 0 3, Mali Morgan-Elliott 4 0 10, Madison Bartley 3 0 6, Makira Webster 2 2 6, Iyerlan Alberts 0 1 1, Ashley Daniels 1 0 2. Totals: 11-4-29