The Blue Devils will face top-seeded Lowellville on Saturday.
LIBERTY -- McDonald High coach Rob Hilbun is a big believer in the adage, "the third time's the charm."
After losing to Mathews twice this year in the regular season, the third-seeded Blue Devils broke open a 44-44 tie at the start of the fourth quarter by opening the period on a 10-0 run and upsetting second-seeded Mathews, 61-52, in the second semifinal game of the Division IV girls tournament at Liberty.
Hilbun's team will put that same adage to the test in the district title game when they face Lowellville, a 43-17 winner over Southington in the opening game, Saturday at 2 p.m.
The top-seeded Rockets handed McDonald two regular season losses in Inter-County league play this past season.
Tondo leads uprising
McDonald (15-8) and Mathews (19-3) battled evenly through three quarters before junior Ashleigh Tondo helped the Blue Devils take control.
Her basket with 4:02 left in the game gave McDonald a 54-44 lead and Mathews never recovered.
Tondo scored 11 of her 24 points in the period and put the game away by hitting 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch.
Tondo completed a triple-double, finishing with 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
Sisters Emily Dolsak, a freshman, chipped in with 16 points and 7 rebounds while junior Amy Dolsak added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Shut down Ford
But it was McDonald's defense on Mathews senior Tara Ford that was the difference in the game.
"Ford averaged 29 points against us in the first two games," Hilbun said. "We couldn't let that happen and we didn't. We keyed in on stopping her."
The Blue Devils held Ford to 13 points with a swarming 1-3 defense that was designed to shadow Mathews' 1,000-plus point scorer.
Mathews coach John Cicero Jr. said foul trouble hampered his team all night long.
The Mustangs' point guard fouled out midway through the final period and its senior center played the entire second half with four fouls.
"That hurt us," Cicero said. "We weren't able to apply pressure like we wanted to and offensively we never got going."
Melanie Roscoe helped pick up the scoring slack for Mathews as she poured in 24 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
Lowellville's defense shines
In the opener, Lowellville's Amanda Nero didn't have her normally strong shooting game but the Rockets defense was outstanding.
"I've always said that Amanda's defense means more to our team than her offense," said Lowellville coach Tony Matisi. "Her energy out there sets the pace for our defense and the defense was outstanding."
Nero did score 14 points and that was nearly enough to outscore Southington which managed just 17 points and only two in the final period.
Porter has double-double
Sara Porter led the Rockets (20-3) with 15 points and 17 rebounds as Lowellville dominated the boards with a 48-25 advantage.
"Sara really stepped it up tonight," Matisi said. "She's really been playing well late this season and she was strong on the inside tonight."
Southington (11-11) got five points each from Brittney Gillium and Lucy Donaldson.
"Lowellville just wore us down," said Chalker coach Ed Valley. "We hung with them for about two and a half quarters but then they were able to pull away."