Pickerington High School Central girls basketball players did not shed many tears as the Division I state final ended March 16 at Ohio State.
The Tigers appeared shocked more than anything else as a chance at their second consecutive championship, which had been so close through three quarters, slowly disappeared.
Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame reeled off an 18-0 run from late in the third quarter to the final two minutes of the fourth and outscored Central 22-2 to end the game and win 52-31.
"Their open looks went in and we couldn't seem to throw ours in the ocean. We knew we could compete with them and at some point, somebody was going to have a run. It wasn't us," Tigers coach Johnathan Hedgepeth said. "We got some good looks and just couldn't make them."
Senior guard Madison Greene's 10 points led Central, which finished 28-2 overall and trailed just 30-29 in the final seconds of the third quarter after a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Skye Williams.
The Tigers missed their next 12 shots, and their only points the rest of the way came on a field goal by junior forward Erin Whitehead with 1:37 left.
Among Mount Notre Dame's big shots in their runs were back-to-back 3-pointers from between 20 and 25 feet by Gabbie Marshall that made it 42-29 with 4:43 remaining.
"We had to stay tight and not let Greene get inside. I don't know if she was able to get inside. She is a great player," Mount Notre Dame coach Scott Rogers said. "We have a tremendous respect for their entire team. (March 16) was a credit to our kids. They just wanted to close it out. It was about being mentally tough because (the Tigers) were going to bring the pressure."
Although Central defeated Toledo Notre Dame Academy 52-42 in a state semifinal March 15 at Ohio State, the Tigers made just 33 percent of their shots last weekend. They were 21-for-52 from the floor against Notre Dame Academy and 13-for-51 against Mount Notre Dame, which made 18 of 29 shots and won its second championship in three years.
Central was appearing in its 13th state tournament and seeking its eighth title, which would have been an Ohio record. The Tigers' seven championships are tied for most all-time in Ohio with Africentric, which won the Division III final earlier March 16, and Mount Notre Dame.
A Tigers win also would have meant that for the first time, all four state champions would have been repeat winners.
Greene had 14 points and five steals and senior forwards Maliya Perry and Jada Tate each added 11 points against Notre Dame Academy.
Greene, a Penn State signee, averaged 15.7 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds and was named OCC-Ohio Division Player of the Year for the third consecutive season as well as first-team all-state and all-district for the second year in a row.
Perry, an Auburn signee, averaged 13.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists to earn first-team all-league and all-district and second-team all-state honors.
Junior guard Nicole Stephens, an Akron commit, and Tate were second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Sophomore guard/forward Jocelyn Tate was named honorable mention all-league.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Felesia Ondongo (guard) and Aarionna Redman (forward).
"Obviously, we wanted to finish this with a win and we have a great group of returning players, but it's tough to watch those seniors walk off coming up short. That's the hardest part," Hedgepeth said. "I wanted to encourage those kids and let them know that we had a great run, we just came up a little short. They turned this program back into what it should be."
After the state semifinal, Perry called her four seasons at Central "a blessing" regardless of what happened in the championship. The Tigers went 101-13 during her career with four district championships and four OCC-Ohio titles, going 10-0 in the league this season to finish three games ahead of second-place Reynoldsburg (7-3).
"It's hard just to get to the final, let alone actually win it," Perry said. "We're seniors and we just (wanted) to finish it with another championship. It's a blessing to get a chance to be in that position."