The atmosphere was electric Saturday night for the Division I girls basketball state championship game as the Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame faithful came out hoping to witness history.
And the Cougars delivered.
COLUMBUS – The atmosphere was electric Saturday night for the Division I girls basketball state championship game as the Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame faithful came out hoping to witness history.
And the Cougars delivered.
MND became the first D-I team to win four straight state titles and tied South Euclid Regina out of Division III for the most consecutive championships.
The Cougars faced adversity in the title game against Toledo Start but MND relied on its veteran leadership and looked to the bench to notch the 52-38 win at the 34th Annual Girls State Basketball Tournament at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
The Cougars jumped out to a 17-5 first quarter lead but were outscored 10-4 by Start in the second quarter and MND took a 21-15 lead into the break.
“In close games, too many coaches blame their players for not getting things executed,” MND head coach Dante Harlan said. “But as a coach, you try and put your players and team in a position to win the game. You have to be willing to suck it up and take the heat if it doesn’t pan out just like you expect your players to.”
MND (27-1) had four players score in double digits with senior forward Gabby Smith – a Vanderbilt signee – and sophomore guard Kathryn Reynolds leading the way with 13 points each.
Ms. Basketball award winner and Southern California recruit Kendall Hackney tallied 12 points in the paint and pulled down four rebounds. But Hackney got in early foul trouble and was forced to the bench with four fouls with 6:13 remaining in the third quarter.
“Last year, I fouled out in the state championship game so it was only tradition,” Hackney joked. “After I went out, I was confident in my teammates and trusted my teammates. We have so much talent on this team and they all play to their strengths. We just did a great job. I trusted them completely and I am so proud of them.”
Seniors Maria Redwine, who netted four points, and Amanda Wilken saw valuable playing time with Hackney on the bench. Junior post Bridgit Williams had four points and four rebounds in the paint in place of Hackney.
Wilken was physical in the post fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“The bench really stepped up tonight and that was exactly what we needed,” Hackney said. “I just think it completely turned the game around.”
MND forced 25 turnovers and committed only 15 as Harlan adjusted his strategy with Hackney on the bench.
“We had to go back to doing what we did earlier in the game,” he said. “I felt when we got a couple of fouls on Kendall, we got hesitant and started to get passive. We were too busy trying to protect (the lead) instead of trying to attack it and I had to trust the kids of the bench.”
Hackney reentered the game with 4:27 left and a 41-30 lead. She remained in the game until Harlan subbed out his starters at the 1:19 mark with the game well in hand.
They got a standing ovation from the crowd.
“I had to trust (Hackney),” Harlan said about his decision to put her back in the game when he did. “She is a senior, she is a leader and she deserved to finish out her career the right way and not sitting on the bench.”
Senior point guard and Ohio recruit Ashley Fowler added 10 points.
“I think every senior came in and gave a lot of effort,” Harlan said. “I am proud of every single kid that went in that game.”
Start (22-4), which won its first district and regional titles this season and made the title game in its first state appearance, was led by first team All-Ohio selection Yolanda Richardson with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard Maleeka Kynard added 12 points and eight rebounds.
But Richardson and Kynard combined for 12 turnovers.
“They are going to be back here again,” Harlan said about Start. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they came back the next two years. They have a great, young squad and I thought (Start head coach Bob Brown) with the kids they’ve got and the staff they have are going to be right back here.”
For MND, the championship marks the fifth in school history tying the Cougars for No. 2 all-time with Delphos St. John’s. MND has won all five titles in the last six seasons.
Harlan took over as co-head coach for the first of the four consecutine titles when Hackney, Smith, Fowler and the rest of the seniors were freshmen.
The MND seniors are 101-10 in four years.
“We knew, all of us seniors, that this was our last chance to win another state championship and we were going to leave our hearts on the floor tonight,” Hackney said. “I think we did exactly that. I am so proud of my teammates and we played so well.”
Added Harlan: “I am a little emotional because this was a special group. That was the last game I will ever get to coach them and I am speechless right now and I am blessed to have been able to coach a group of young ladies that special.”
“I don’t think I am ever going to believe (this championship) happened.”