Girls basketball state tournament coverage

Comets fall in State Championship overtime thriller

Andrew Little | The Chronicle Sports Editor

The Mason girls basketball team poses with the state runner trophy.

After a 27 win season, the Mason girls basketball team could not get its storybook ending, suffering a heartbreaking 63-56 overtime loss to the Reynoldsburg Raiders in the state final.

The Comets got out to an early 6-0 lead in the first quarter before West Virginia signee Imarianah Russell knocked down two baskets to shrink the lead to one. The Comets and Raiders traded scores, and the Comets ended the quarter holding a narrow 15-13 lead. The first quarter was a three-point barrage, with Russell knocking down two in addition to one from Makiya Miller, while Gabby Razzano hit one for the Comets. Amanda Barnes led the Comets in scoring with five points, and Russell led the Raiders with ten. After defeating All-Americans Chance Gray and KK Bransford in consecutive playoff wins, it was Russell who presented the biggest challenge for the Comets. Head Coach Rob Matula said that going into the game they knew how impactful of a scorer Russell was.

“[Russell is] just an all-around player,” Matula said. “She stepped out and hit some threes, went to the rim, and got some buckets. She’s just very, very talented”

The second quarter began with both teams trading blows, but the Comets pulled away midway through the quarter after forcing a series of turnovers. They went into the half with a 28-20 lead. Offensively they were led by a balanced attack, headlined by Barnes nine points and University of Miami signee Kyla Oldacre’s six. The 6’6 senior added five rebounds, two steals, and two blocks, but also three turnovers in the half. The Comets were able to slow down Russell in the second quarter, who totaled 12 points, six rebounds, and two steals.

Reynoldsburg took the momentum to start the quarter, trimming the lead to 30-25 after a three-pointer from Miller, but Oldacre got things going for the Comets scoring six consecutive points and giving them the largest lead of the game at 11. Russell and Ohio State signee Mya Perry kept the Raiders in the game, and Perry knocked down a three-pointer to close out the quarter. The Comets led 41-36. Barnes, who to that point was the Comets’ leading scorer with 11 points, fouled out late in the quarter forcing the team to rely on their bench that was already stretched thin.

The Raiders trimmed the lead to one after back-to-back triple’s from Trinity Ramos. At this point, tempers began to flare, and Jamiona Ross from Reynoldsburg got into the face of freshman Comet Madie Parrish. Both were assessed technical fouls. From then on the Raiders seemed to possess all the momentum. Russell and Perry gave the Raiders a 47-45 lead, their first since the first quarter. The Comets led for 24:33 minutes compared to the Raiders 3:17. Parrish, who scored the Comets’ final four points, made both of her free throws to tie the game and proceeded to knock the ball away from the Raiders preventing a final shot attempt, sending the game to overtime. With roughly two minutes left, the Raiders held the ball for over a minute, and the Comets were only able to score six points in the quarter, four coming off of free throws. Matula said that while he is proud of the success of his team, he recognizes that the team did not close out the game the way it needed to, and Reynoldsburg capitalized on it.

“To get to this point is a hard, hard thing to do, and [it’s difficult] to keep your game elevated the way it needs to be,” Matula said. “We just didn’t get it done in that last quarter when we needed to get it done it slipped away from us. [Reynoldsburg] caught fire when they needed to and made big shots, so them I give the most credit.”

Oldacre won the tip-off in overtime and scored the first points, but Russell drew an and-one foul to tie the game up and missed the free throw. Russell then scored again, forced a turnover, and Perry hit a layup extending the Raider lead to 53-49. Going into the game Russell was 26 points away from 2000 in her career, and she finished with 28. Oldacre, Parrish, and Bradyn Johnson all scored for the Comets in the overtime period, but after two turnovers and the Raiders going 6-9 from the free-throw line, the deficit was too big to overcome. 

As time expired the Raiders won 63-56, winning their first state championship in school history. The Comets finished as state runner-up for the third time in school history (1997 and 2016). Oldacre led the Comets in scoring with 17 points, also adding 13 rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and two steals. Parrish scored 11 and added five assists and three steals. The Raiders went 9/22 from behind the arc, while the Comets only hit one three-pointer all game. Ultimately, it was Russell’s 28 points and the Comets’ 19 turnovers that determined the closely fought bout. Oldacre was the Comets’ only senior, and they will return seven varsity juniors next season.  Matula said that the team will return a lot of talent, and the setback of a state finals loss means that the team will get to work right away so they can ensure future success.

“I’m very confident [in our future],” Matula said. “I challenged [our underclassmen] to say, ‘what are you going to do to get better,’ because we have enough talented players coming back and coming in so it’s important to not assume anything, and get in the gym.”

Matula gets 400th victory as Comets advance to state championship game with win over Jackson

Andrew Little | The Chronicle Sports Editor

The Mason girls basketball team is headed to their second state final under head coach Rob Matula after defeating Massillon Jackson 54-35 in the state semi-final.

Matula, who has been coaching the Comets for 17 years after stints as head coach for the boys’ teams at Talawanda and Sycamore, notched his 400th career win. The Comets last reached the state final in 2016 when they were defeated by Wadsworth 60-51. They also reached the state semi-final in 2018. Fans in the crowd held up signs that read “400 career wins” to commemorate the accolade. Matula said that while 400 wins is an accomplishment that he is very proud of, he has his eyes on the second championship in school history, the last coming in 2000 before Matula’s tenure.

“I would give all 400 away for the one tomorrow,” Matula said. “It’s more about the kids because of their effort and energy, and what they represent for our school and community. It’d be awesome for me but I’m more hoping for [my players] to get the reward they deserve.”

The Comets were led by 6’6 forward Kyla Oldacre who dominated the game from start to finish. The Comets jumped to an early lead after Oldacre scored their first four points, but the Polar Bears ended the first quarter with a 10-9 lead. Despite the Comets having a distinct size advantage, the Polar Bears were able to finish the quarter with the rebound advantage, grabbing eight boards to the Comets’ six. Part of the Comets’ slow start was their inaccuracy from beyond the arc, typically a strength, as they went 1-5 from three in the quarter. Freshman guard Madie Parrish hit the lone triple of the quarter. 

To open the second quarter, Emma Dretke for the Polar Bears converted on an and-one to extend the Polar Bear lead to four. Parrish knocked down her second three-pointer of the night to bring the lead down to one. Parrish then connected with Razzano on two layups, including one off of a remarkable no-look pass, allowing the Comets to regain a 16-15 lead. The Comets did not trail at any point the rest of the game. Oldacre finished the half off with consecutive scores, including a baseline-to-baseline euro-step basket that gave the Comets momentum heading into the break with a 22-18 lead. Oldacre had eight points and six rebounds at the half, and the Comets gained the rebounding edge with 16 boards compared to Jackson’s 15. 

The low-scoring first half was highlighted by intense defense from both sides, with the Comets forcing six turnovers and the Polar Bears forcing three. The Mason student section was sold-out, giving the Comets a distinct advantage with the crowd noise. Oldacre said that while she typically tries to block out distractions in-game and focus on her play, the support from the community gave her additional motivation to win and advance to the finals.

“That just motivated me more to get the job done,” Oldacre said.

The Comets came out of halftime with a scoring surge, going on a 16-2 run. At the end of the quarter, the Comets led 42-25. Oldacre added seven points including going 1-3 at the free-throw line, but the offensive burst was commanded by Parrish, who scored six in the quarter along with several assists. Parrish said the Comets’ mentality heading into the second half was to keep their foot on the gas and be relentless on both sides of the ball.

“That extra push that we have as a team and a group really motivated us to stay locked in and push as hard as we can until the clock hit zero,” Parrish said.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Comets forced two final turnovers for the Polar Bears, pushing the game total to 11. They were again led by Oldacre, who scored six points off of three different occasions where she grabbed her own rebound and converted for second-chance points. Oldacre ended the game with 21 points and a whopping 19 rebounds, while also logging two steals. 

One area where the Comets struggled was at the free-throw line, where they shot 3-11. The team has struggled all season at the line, shooting 57.8% on the season, but that potential Achilles heel has not prevented the Comets from success in the postseason thus far. 

Matula said that after coming close to a state championship on several occasions in recent years, notably the 2018 semi-final team, the team is excited to get the chance to compete for their season-long goal of a state championship.

“It’s definitely a grind,” Matula said. “This is it. Tomorrow is the last day of basketball season. It’s unbelievable when you think about it like that. It’s wonderful to be back [in the finals] with that opportunity.”

The Comets will face the Reynoldsburg Raiders in the state finals. Reynoldsburg possesses one of the top players in the state in 6’0 senior guard/forward Mya Perry, an Ohio State University commit. The Comets and Oldacre are no stranger to facing top recruits after knocking out Chance Gray and Winton Woods, and Ohio Division I Ms. Basketball KK Bransford and Mount Notre Dame in back-to-back regional playoff matchups on their way to the state finals. Tip-off is at 8:30 at the University of Dayton Arena.

Photo by Lily Haller