KETTERING, Ohio – Mason girls’ basketball coach Rob Matula stood outside the locker room inside Trent Arena with a focus in his eyes synonymous to being in a regional tournament.
The Comets had just defeated Mount Notre Dame 53-32, limiting the Cougars to just 10 field goals. Matula said it was the most impressive defensive effort he’s seen from a team in 30 years of coaching.
But, the celebration was brief. Coaches aren't wired to be too satisfied in the postseason. But, Matula was struck with how well his team played.
The attention soon turned to Saturday night (7 p.m. tipoff) as the Comets play Greater Miami Conference rival Lakota West in the regional final.
“It will be a good one,” Mason sophomore guard Megan Wagner said.
This is the fifth consecutive season a Division I area girls’ basketball team will be in Columbus for the state Final Four. The winner advances to play in a state semifinal March 16 at the Schottenstein Center. It’s difficult to say who wants it more at this point.
“It should be an epic game – let’s just be honest,” Matula said. “It’s going to come down to the wire.”
No one doubts that prediction. The teams split the regular-season series. Mason defeated visiting Lakota West 61-54 Feb. 10 without standout junior forward Sammie Puisis, who was ill at the time.
“I’m super excited. Seeing that my team won without me just gets me even more pumped,” Puisis said Wednesday night. “It just shows that with me back playing we can just go out and play our game and get the win.”
Lakota West (25-2) and Mason (23-3) have been GMC co-champions for the past two seasons. They are among the elite programs in Ohio every season.
Firebirds coach Andy Fishman knows the challenge ahead but says his program is blessed with the opportunity. Mason defeated Lakota West in the 2017 regional semifinal.
“This outcome (Wednesday night) is what we expected and prepared for since last year's season-ending loss, so there's not much we have to say,” Fishman said. “It’s a great rivalry, and always an exciting honor to survive and advance to the regional finals for the opportunity to play for state.”
Lakota West has six seniors, including guard/forward Abby Prohaska (Notre Dame signee), a first-team all-district selection who has been a starter in all six regional tournament games in her career.
“This is what we wanted, what we had planned, what we had prepared for since sadly last year losing at this point,” Fishman said. “These seniors – they don’t want it be done. That’s the bottom of the line.”
Prohaska (13 points) and senior forward Jasmine Ballew (15 points) combined for 28 points Wednesday night. But, just like Mason’s defense, the Firebirds take pride in applying pressure on an opponent. Lakota West was readily prepared for Wednesday in its win over Walnut Hills.
“We just want it as much as any other team does,” Ballew said.