Heading north: Mason girls outslug West, earn trip to state tournament

Mason players celebrate their Division I regional championship after defeating Lakota West 54-51 on Saturday night at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Mason players celebrate their Division I regional championship after defeating Lakota West 54-51 on Saturday night at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

All the anguish that came with the end of her Lakota West High School basketball career couldn’t stop Abby Prohaska from offering congratulations Saturday night.

Greater Miami Conference rival Mason is headed to the Division I state tournament, and the Comets will have a Firebird supporter.

“I wish Mason the best of luck,” Prohaska said. “GMC … hopefully they bring it home.”

PHOTOS: Nick Graham’s gallery from Trent Arena

Prohaska & Co. gave Mason their best shot in the regional championship game at Fairmont’s Trent Arena, but it simply wasn’t enough. The Comets won 54-51 to earn the program’s fifth state berth.

It was the end of the prep line for six seniors — Prohaska, Jasmine Ballew, Ally Haar, Madisyn Oxley, Sarah Jones and Jada Mason — as West completed a 25-3 season.

“I thanked them for the heart and the pride that they represented this program with,” Firebirds coach Andy Fishman said. “They were all just fantastic competitors. I’m going to have great memories of the time they were here.

“These girls fought like crazy. They deserve a better outcome, but someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose, and this time we just didn’t make it happen.”

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Lakota West’s Sarah Jones puts up a shot despite the defensive effort of Mason’s Sammie Puisis (32) during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Lakota West’s Sarah Jones puts up a shot despite the defensive effort of Mason’s Sammie Puisis (32) during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

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Lakota West’s Sarah Jones puts up a shot despite the defensive effort of Mason’s Sammie Puisis (32) during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Prohaska went down swinging with a 21-point, 10-rebound, four-assist performance. Haar contributed 9 points, and Jaydis Gales tossed in 8.

While West contemplated the start of the offseason, Mason (24-3) danced the dance of an emotional regional champion. Junior Sade Tucker led the charge with a career-high 20 points and three steals.

“It was incredible,” said Tucker, a transfer from Walnut Hills. “Last year I went to a different school and we lost in the sectional finals, so this feeling is something I’ve never felt. And it’s awesome.”

It was Tucker’s driving layup with 1:07 remaining that pushed the Comets ahead for good (48-46). Two critical turnovers stung the West cause in the last minute, completing an 18-turnover night for the Firebirds.

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Mason’s Megan Wagner makes a pass over Madisyn Oxley of Lakota West on Saturday night during a Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Mason’s Megan Wagner makes a pass over Madisyn Oxley of Lakota West on Saturday night during a Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

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Mason’s Megan Wagner makes a pass over Madisyn Oxley of Lakota West on Saturday night during a Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“You’ve got to give Mason credit,” Fishman said. “They executed in their end-game situations and made the plays that they needed to do to win. We certainly had our chances. The mistakes our girls made had nothing to do with their heart and their character.

“It’s a game of being very good and very lucky, and at the end, we were neither. It was a great game with two really, really good teams. Nobody wants to lose.”

Mason coach Rob Matula was proud of his team’s resolve after splitting with West during the regular season.

“It was exactly what we knew it was going to be. Back and forth, two great teams slugging it out,” Matula said. “It’s great playing against competition like that. Total respect on the floor. You can see it out of both teams. It’s wonderful.”

BOYS BASKETBALL: Princeton 53, Lakota East 51

The Comets will face Pickerington Central (26-2), the Associated Press state poll champion, in an 8 p.m. state semifinal Friday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Solon and Wadsworth will meet in the first semifinal at 6 p.m.

Mason won a state title in 2000, but that feat hasn’t been accomplished in the 13-year Matula era. The Comets lost to Wadsworth in the 2016 title game.

Is this Mason’s time to win a championship under Matula?

“I hope so, but I hope who I am isn’t defined by whether or not I win a state championship,” he said. “But we’re going to give it hell. Hopefully it goes our way.”

Saturday’s contest was largely decided at the charity stripe. The Comets were 27 of 35. The Firebirds were 10 of 12.

Fishman clearly wasn’t thrilled with the free-throw differential, but he didn’t want to get into the blame game on judgment calls by the officials.

“I’ve been on the other end of it when the fouls and free throws were a little bit different,” Matula said. “But you’ve got to make plays when it comes down to it.”

Among Mason’s playmakers were Anna Brinkmann, who had 10 points and seven rebounds; Sammie Puisis, who had 9 points and seven boards; Tihanna Fulton, who had 8 points and seven caroms; and Megan Wagner, who had 4 points, four assists and two steals.

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Mason's Tihanna Fulton puts up a shot in front of her school’s student action during Saturday night’s Division I regional final against Lakota West at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Mason's Tihanna Fulton puts up a shot in front of her school’s student action during Saturday night’s Division I regional final against Lakota West at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

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Mason's Tihanna Fulton puts up a shot in front of her school’s student action during Saturday night’s Division I regional final against Lakota West at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Brinkmann said the Comets were able to keep their cool because of their experience in big-time atmospheres. The large, boisterous crowd at Trent Arena didn’t rattle Mason.

“When you come this far, nothing’s easy,” said Brinkmann, a 6-foot-1 senior. “You’ve just got to fight. It’s whoever makes big plays. We had to get big stops and big rebounds at the end. All defense … that’s what it was.”

And when it was finally over?

“Oh my gosh, it’s undescribable,” Brinkmann said. “Winning something like that with some of your best friends on the team … it’s like family. You’re out there with your family doing something big, and it’s just amazing.”

Matula said his team is stocked with as much focus and resilience as he’s had in 30 years of coaching, boys or girls.

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Lakota West's Jaydis Gales dribbles toward the hoop as teammate Abby Prohaska sets a pick on Mason’s Sammie Puisis during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Lakota West's Jaydis Gales dribbles toward the hoop as teammate Abby Prohaska sets a pick on Mason’s Sammie Puisis during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

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Lakota West's Jaydis Gales dribbles toward the hoop as teammate Abby Prohaska sets a pick on Mason’s Sammie Puisis during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

He praised the play of Tucker: “I’ve said she’s 5-2, but she plays like she’s 6-2, and that’s exactly what she does. She don’t back down from nobody.”

He also praised Prohaska and the way she tried to will her team to victory: “I’ve got the utmost respect for that girl. She’s my kind of player. She’s the kind of kid that I would coach every day because she’s a warrior.”

Prohaska, who will play for the University of Notre Dame next season, had the look of someone with a you-can’t-stop-me mentality. When she drove to the basket, the purpose was clear.

“Senior year. It’s now or never,” Prohaska said. “I definitely came out with that in mind. I’m pretty sure every single one of my seniors did too.”

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Mason’s Tihanna Fulton (45) hoists the Division I regional championship trophy as teammates Ashley Wells (14), Megan Wagner (12), Anna Brinkmann (42) and Secret Hughes (52) react after Saturday night’s victory over Lakota West at Fairmont’s Trent Arena . NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Mason’s Tihanna Fulton (45) hoists the Division I regional championship trophy as teammates Ashley Wells (14), Megan Wagner (12), Anna Brinkmann (42) and Secret Hughes (52) react after Saturday night’s victory over Lakota West at Fairmont’s Trent Arena . NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Combined ShapeCaption
Mason’s Tihanna Fulton (45) hoists the Division I regional championship trophy as teammates Ashley Wells (14), Megan Wagner (12), Anna Brinkmann (42) and Secret Hughes (52) react after Saturday night’s victory over Lakota West at Fairmont’s Trent Arena . NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

She was part of West’s state championship team as a freshman in 2015. That was huge, but it’s not what she’ll remember the most about her time as a Firebird.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the friendships,” Prohaska said. “That’s definitely not even comparable. My teammates were awesome through all four years. I could never replace them.”

Mason, which will take a 19-game winning streak to Columbus, leads this series 13-10. The Comets are 3-1 against West in tournament games.

Lakota West 12-11-13-15—51

Mason 13-15-7-19—54

LAKOTA WEST (25-3): Bryana Henderson 0 1 1, Sarah Jones 1 0 3, Jasmine Ballew 1 0 3, Abby Prohaska 7 7 21, Jaydis Gales 3 2 8, Madisyn Oxley 2 0 6, Ally Haar 3 0 9. Totals: 17-10-51

MASON (24-3): Sade Tucker 5 9 20, Megan Wagner 1 2 4, Sammie Puisis 2 5 9, Anna Brinkmann 2 6 10, Tihanna Fulton 3 2 8, Alanna Carter 0 1 1, Secret Hughes 0 2 2. Totals: 13-27-54

3-pointers: L 7 (Haar 3, Oxley 2, Jones, Ballew), M 1 (Tucker)

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Mason's Sade Tucker tries to make a move on Lakota West’s Ally Haar during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Mason's Sade Tucker tries to make a move on Lakota West’s Ally Haar during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Combined ShapeCaption
Mason's Sade Tucker tries to make a move on Lakota West’s Ally Haar during Saturday night’s Division I regional final at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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