Jasmine Ballew didn’t have to see the scoreboard to know things were going pretty well for Lakota West High School’s girls basketball team Wednesday night.
The senior forward paced the offense with 15 points, while the Firebirds’ defense was in typically fine and overwhelming form, in a 60-31 rout of Walnut Hills in a Division I regional semifinal at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
BOYS BASKETBALL: Dunbar 27, Fenwick 26
“Honestly, I didn’t look at the scoreboard because our coaches always tell us, ‘Don’t play by the scoreboards and just keep playing,’ ” Ballew said. “I feel like we all have the same effort and intensity and we bring it every night, so it’s a daily thing for us at this point. We just have to keep playing the way we know how to.”
West is 25-2 and romping through the postseason. The Firebirds have won their five tournament games by an average score of 61-21.
The next step figures to be much more challenging. It’ll be West vs. Mason (23-3) for the regional championship and a state tournament berth at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Trent — the Greater Miami Conference co-champions split during the regular season.
Mason whacked defending state champion Mount Notre Dame 53-32 in Wednesday’s regional nightcap.
“I think our girls really were mentally, physically and emotionally ready to do something special tonight,” Firebirds coach Andy Fishman said. “This is what we had wanted, what we had planned, what we had prepared for since sadly last year losing at this point (to Mason). These seniors, they don’t want it to be done. That’s the bottom line. We want to keep practicing. We love practice.”
The West machine was purring right from the start against Walnut Hills. The Firebirds shot out to a 19-2 lead and were never challenged by the Eagles, the Eastern Cincinnati Conference champions.
Abby Prohaska put up 13 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists for the winners. West’s pressure defense led to some frazzled play by Walnut Hills, which shot 24.4 percent from the field and committed 22 turnovers.
“We were all just ready to play,” Firebirds senior Sarah Jones said. “I felt like they didn’t expect us to come out as hard as we did. We had a lot of energy. We just knew we were going to come out with a strong win.”
The Eagles (25-2) hadn’t lost a game in Ohio all season before Wednesday’s beatdown. They were making their second regional appearance after losing to Vandalia Butler in the 2010 semifinals.
Walnut Hills coach Adam Lazar said Wednesday’s game wasn’t so much a physical mismatch as it was a mental mismatch.
“It was really the experience,” he said. “They were ready to go, and we were still staring at the lights. They play with confidence and preparation and having been there before. We’ve just got to get there. We’ll get to the point where that’s us, but that’s just not us right now.”
Miami University-bound junior center Kennedi Myles was limited to 7 points and seven boards for the Eagles.
Lazar struggled to maintain his composure as he talked about his team’s memorable campaign.
“The first thing we told them is that we’ve got to be proud of what we accomplished. They’re the best team in school history, so that’s what will be remembered more than what just happened,” Lazar said. “Pain is temporary. It may last a day, an hour, a year, but it will subside and something will take its place. In our case, that pride will replace the pain.
“Right now, we’re hurting. I don’t know that we’re better than West, but we’re better than what we just did. We’re still young. We’ve got a lot of growing up to do, a lot of learning to do. But I’m amazingly proud of my kids. Proud of what they accomplished. Proud of the kind of family they built. Proud that they’re going to be able to come back in 10, 15, 20 years from now and look at the banners that we put up in the gym and know that they did that.”
As strong as West looked Wednesday, its performance wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The Firebirds’ defense often turns opponents into a flustered mess.
“In practice, we talk about ball pressure a lot and turning over people and getting in the passing lanes,” Ballew said. “They’re a very physical team and athletic team. We had to make sure we boxed out and got on the boards.”
Fishman praised the Eagles for their historic season and energetic play in the regional.
“I thought we were able to dictate the pace almost immediately and get some transition baskets, some baskets off back cuts and how we run our offense,” Fishman said. “They were crashing the glass, getting second shots, and our guys just kept competing and walling up and staying in their way and making things happen. With the way we were able to attack the basket and with our confidence shooting the basketball, it was real contagious.”
Ally Haar scored 8 points for West and also set a school record. The senior was 2 of 2 at the foul line and is now 19 of 19 this season, surpassing the old mark of 18 consecutive free-throw conversions by Jessica Wiltshire in 1997-98 and Summer Reeves in 2010-11.
Walnut Hills 7-7-7-10—31
Lakota West 21-17-18-4—60
WALNUT HILLS (25-2): Sean Kelly Darks 4 5 14, Zuri Williams 0 1 1, Kennedi Myles 3 1 7, Aniyah Brown 2 2 7, Darian Burgin 1 0 2. Totals: 10-9-31
LAKOTA WEST (25-2): Bryana Henderson 0 3 3, Sarah Jones 1 1 4, Jasmine Ballew 4 6 15, Nevaeh Dean 3 0 7, Abby Prohaska 5 3 13, Jaydis Gales 2 0 6, Madisyn Oxley 1 0 3, Stella Lukusa 0 1 1, Ally Haar 2 2 8. Totals: 18-16-60
3-pointers: WH 2 (Brown, Darks), LW 8 (Gales 2, Haar 2, Oxley, Jones, Ballew, Dean)
Mount Notre Dame 8-4-10-10—32
MOUNT NOTRE DAME (22-5): Makira Cook 2 3 7, Laila Phelia 2 4 8, Abby Voss 2 0 5, Gabbie Marshall 2 1 6, Julia Hoefling 2 2 6. Totals: 10-10-32
MASON (23-3): Sade Tucker 6 0 15, Sammie Puisis 5 4 17, Anna Brinkmann 3 0 6, Tihanna Fulton 3 2 8, Megan Wagner 2 0 5, Alanna Carter 1 0 2. Totals: 20-6-53
3-pointers: MND 2 (Voss, Marshall), MAS 7 (Tucker 3, Puisis 3, Wagner)