“There’s no magic elixir that we’re going to find over the next two days,” Comets coach Rob Matula said. “We know what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do. It’s going to come down to players making plays and one or two possessions. That’s the way it should be.”
West won their first meeting 51-50 on Dec. 16. Mason opened the campaign with a loss to Columbus Africentric and also got beat by Louisville (Ky.) Male on Dec. 28.
The Comets haven’t lost since. Are they playing their best basketball?
“I’ll just say I like where we’re at,” Matula said. “I like where we’re at defensively. I like where we’re at when we’re moving the basketball and we don’t get stale. I like the fact that our kids have bought into thinking about what we do well and not what other teams do well.”
Mason shot 50.9 percent from the floor and overwhelmed East (4-17, 4-11), which did take a 2-0 lead. By halftime, the Thunderhawks were staring down the barrel of a 40-9 deficit.
Tihanna Fulton and Alanna Carter tossed in 13 and 12 points, respectively, for the Comets. Jessica Motley paced East with 11 points and 11 rebounds. No other Thunderhawk had more than 6 points or three boards.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be super challenging,” said Motley, a junior guard. “Throughout the game, our big goal was to not give up. Even when we were down, we still had girls diving on the floor and hustling to get the ball. That’s a positive way to look at the game.”
East coach Gideon Dudgeon said his team turned in one of its best defensive performances of the season in a 46-21 loss to Mason on Dec. 13.
Lakota East’s Holly Thompson (32) defends Mason’s Jordi Reddington (15) during Wednesday night’s game in Liberty Township. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
The rematch? Not so good.
“They make a lot of teams look like they’re not at the top of their game,” Dudgeon said. “Rob’s been there for years, and I coached in Mason for four years. When you have a system in place 7 through 12, the kids just know what to do. That’s what we’re trying to build. We’re not there yet.”
The Thunderhawks, who only have two seniors on their roster, committed 22 turnovers and shot 30.8 percent from the field in losing for the eighth time in their last nine games.
“I think they’re still competing, which is all you can ask for at this point,” Dudgeon said. “We did not return a lot of experience this year. We’ve had injuries all year, and they’re in their trial by fire right now. Everyone has the same kind of problems. We’ve just got to fight through it and not make excuses and practice hard every day.
Mason’s Megan Wagner gets close to Lakota East’s Lily Rupp as an official begins to count Wednesday night at East. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
“When you look at coaches who are successful, they all struggled at some point. It’s a process that everyone goes through and not everyone’s patient, including me. I want them there faster, but it’s going to take some time.”
East closes the regular season at Hamillton on Saturday, then will look to conquer Oak Hills for the third time this year in Division I sectional play next Saturday.
Motley said the Thunderhawks would love to finish the season with a burst of momentum.
“It’s been a fun year,” she said. “The girls are great. We’re always there to build each other up, and we’re all best friends. Our chemistry off the court is amazing.”
West is the team to beat as the top seed in the Cincinnati sectional. Mason is No. 3, right behind Mount Notre Dame.
Mason’s Alanna Carter is all arms as she guards Lakota East’s Sydney Harrison (3) on Wednesday night in Liberty Township. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
After Saturday, if the Firebirds and Comets meet again, it will be in the regional title game March 10 at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
“I think what distinguishes us in our region is that we honestly have eight teams that could win on any given night,” Matula said. “Now are there some that are a little bit above the others? Maybe. But on any given night in the Southwest region, you better be ready to play.”
Lakota East 4-5-11-10—30
MASON (18-3, 14-1 GMC): Sade Tucker 3 0 6, Megan Wagner 2 0 6, Sammie Puisis 7 0 19, Anna Brinkmann 3 0 6, Tihanna Fulton 6 1 13, Alanna Carter 4 2 12, Catherine Cary 1 0 3, Marilyn Popplewell 1 0 2, Secret Hughes 1 0 3. Totals: 28-3-69
LAKOTA EAST (4-17, 4-11 GMC): Jessica Motley 4 0 11, Jordan Stanley 3 0 6, Danni Stoughton 1 2 4, Sydney Harrison 2 0 5, Lily Rupp 1 0 2, Megan Hatfield 1 0 2. Totals: 12-2-30
3-pointers: M 10 (Puisis 5, Carter 2, Wagner 2, Cary), L 4 (Motley 3, Harrison)