COLUMBUS – Mason senior Lauren Van Kleunen stood in the Schottenstein Center tunnel and promised she will remember this season forever.
The Comets had just received their Division I state runner-up trophy and individual medals. They received warm applause from the Mason fans and kind words of encouragement from the Ohio High School Athletic Association staff.
Yes, the Mason players’ faces showed disappointment. But, each player left everything on the floor in the state championship game that was televised statewide and played in front of 4,783 at the Schottenstein Center.
“We gave a gallant effort and we just came up short,” Mason coach Rob Matula said.
Wadsworth senior guard Jodi Johnson had a game-high 28 points, including 10 of 11 from the free-throw line as the Grizzlies defeated Mason 60-51 to win the school’s second girls’ basketball state title.
Mason (26-3) made its first trip to the state final since 2000 when the Comets won the Division I state title. This weekend was the fourth trip to the state tournament.
Mason, ranked No. 5 in the season’s final Associated Press state poll, won 15 consecutive games entering Saturday night.
“It’s been an honor playing for coach (Rob) Matula and playing with these girls,” said Van Kleunen, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds. “I had to give it everything I had because it was my last game.”
Mason never led in the game against No. 1 ranked Wadsworth (28-1) and the Comets found themselves in a 10-0 deficit at the 4:26 mark of the first quarter.
“We couldn’t get a bucket early to get into anything we wanted to try to do,” Mason coach Rob Matula said. “Give credit to them – they came out and got a lot of baskets. They were hot. They got off to a start we were hoping to get off to and we just couldn’t get into a flow offensively or defensively.”
Mason trailed 30-14 at halftime and Van Kleunen said the Comets knew they were in unfamiliar territory and to give a significant effort in the second half to stay in the game.
Mason shot 27.8 percent in the first half. Wadsworth shot 55 percent.
Mason got within seven points twice in the third quarter including 35-28 at the 1:33 mark and 37-30 in the final seconds of the quarter.
The momentum shifted quickly in the fourth quarter when Mason senior guard Jailyn Mason hit a jumper to cut the deficit to 40-32. Jailyn Mason (Arkansas signee) finished with 10 points and three assists in her final high school game.
Van Kleunen’s field goal cut the Wadsworth lead to 42-36 with 5:52 left.
Van Kleunen, a Marquette signee, cut the Wadsworth lead again - this time to 45-42 with 4:33 left. Her free throws 34 seconds later put the Comets within reach again at 47-44.
“Lauren – she was gutsy,” Matula said. “She was gutsy all year long. This whole team has been gutsy. They showed their mettle there at the end.”
Mason sophomore Anna Brinkmann also played a key role in helping the Comets’ attempted comeback. Her bucket cut the lead to 53-50 with 2:14 left.
But, Wadsworth’s standout Johnson – the Associated Press Division I state co-player of the year – proved to be too much down the stretch.
The Ashland signee scored nine points in the final 3:29 including 5 of 6 from the free-throw line to help give Wadsworth (28-1) its first state title since 1997 when it defeated Mason that year.
Wadsworth shot 24 of 27 from the free-throw line. Mason was 14 of 23 from the line. Matula said that was a simple difference in the game.
It was the second time Mason and Wadsworth played this season. The Comets won the regular-season matchup in January.
Mason won the regional championship, district championship and played in the school’s state girls’ basketball final.
The Comets and the five seniors also left a significant legacy that goes beyond the basketball court.
“Even though we lost I will remember these memories forever,” Van Kleunen said. “Being up here and playing with them – the ups and downs…people are going to remember this at our reunion. It’s been a lot of fun. I have to give all to my seniors. They worked so hard to get here.”
Mason (26-3) – Mason 4 2 10, Mowbray 3 1 7, Puisis 1 2 5, Van Kleunen 6 3 15, Campbell 1 0 2, Reichert 0 3 3, Brinkmann 3 3 9. Totals: 18 14 51.
Wadsworth (28-1) – Lance 1 3 5, Jodi Johnson 8 10 28, Palitto 2 0 6, J. Johnson 2 1 5, Fortner 0 6 6, M. Banks 1 0 2, P. Banks 2 4 8. Totals: 16 24 60.
3-pointers: M 1 (Puisis). W 4 (J. Johnson 2, Palitto 2).