COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was a point early in Friday’s state semifinal when Mount Notre Dame junior guard Makira Cook realized the Cougars were in control.
The scoreboard was a good indicator, but she also sensed that if her team's defensive pressure continued to force turnovers, they would earn to an opportunity to play in the state final.
“I just felt like they (Canton GlenOak) were kind of deflated early,” Cook said, adding later: “Our defense has been at the top, A1.”
MND outscored Canton GlenOak in the first three quarters and forced the Golden Eagles to 12 first-half turnovers en route to a 55-37 win in a Division I state girls’ basketball semifinal at the Schottenstein Center.
“I was proud of how resilient our kids were and how they handled the atmosphere,” MND coach Dr. Scott Rogers said.
MND (26-2), ranked No. 8 nationally by the MaxPreps Xcellent 25, will play Pickerington Central (28-1) in the state final at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
“That’s why you coach,” Rogers said. “It’s the ultimate. It’s great to see them mature throughout the year. This group has been really focused since last year. I am just really proud of them.”
The Cougars, who won the state title in 2017, are seeking their seventh state girls’ basketball title and could join Pickerington Central as the only schools in Ohio to achieve such a distinction.
“Being in this atmosphere is an honor and a privilege,” Rogers said. “Our girls don’t take it for granted regardless of how many times we’ve been up here.”
MND freshman guard KK Bransford had 13 points, nine rebounds, for assists and two blocks to lead the Cougars Friday night. She scored the game’s first four points to set the tone early. MND led 13-2 at the 2:36 mark of the first quarter after senior Julia Hoefling made her second 3-pointer.
“It was really fun,” Bransford said. “I had a nice time. Just embracing all of it and keeping my focus throughout the game.”
Senior guard Gabbie Marshall (Iowa signee) had 11 points and three assists. Hoefling (Loyola University Chicago) had 11 points and three blocks. Hoefling had three 3-pointers which also proved to beneficial early.
Cook, a Miami University verbal commit, had eight points, two assists and two steals. It was Cook and Marshall who controlled the tempo and didn't allow GlenOak to set up their defensive pressure.
The state final Saturday is especially significant for Cook, who was hurt in February 2017 and wasn't able to play in the state Final Four that season.
“It’s pretty sweet, but I just trusted in God’s timing,” Cook said. “Two years ago I was on the bench cheering for my team, praying constantly for the team, and I just trusted the process, basically. So it’s pretty sweet and it’s a great group of girls.”
MND led GlenOak 33-14 at halftime after the Cougars went on a 10-2 run to close out the second quarter. MND led 46-22 at the end of the third quarter.
GlenOak (24-3) committed 17 turnovers overall and shot just 32 percent for the game. Junior center Hayley Smith had 10 points for the Golden Eagles.
“The stage was a little big for us, to be quite honest with you,” GlenOak coach Paul Wackerly said. “…Hats off to Scott Rogers and his team. They came out and they wanted to get to that final, obviously. They’ve been there many times.”