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Blue Devils continue quest

McDonald girls face Fort Loramie in final

DAYTON — For the last seven years, the seven seniors on the McDonald girls basketball roster have been dreaming of one goal — to reach the state tournament.

While it hasn’t been the season anyone has expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Devils have overcome every trial the season has thrown at them thus far with a smile on their faces.

The last obstacle standing betwen the Blue Devils and a state championship is Fort Loramie. Fort Loramie is 28-1 on the year and is coming off a 66-24 victory over Convoy Crestview in a state semifinal on Thursday.

The Blue Devils are no strangers to lopsided victories either after taking down Waterford 57-29 in the other state semifinal.

“I’m on top of the world,” senior Molly Howard said. “We’ve been after this for so long and now that it’s actually here and we’re going to the championship where we’re going for it all. We’re determined for this one.”

McDonald and Fort Loramie met up in 1991 in a state semifinal, where the Blue Devils won to advance to the state championship game in McDonald’s only other girls basketball state tournament trip.

Fast forward 30 years, and the two will square off in the Division IV state championship game today at 10:45 a.m. (Spectrum News 1).

“They present a challenge,” Blue Devils coach Tony Matisi said about Fort Loramie after McDonald’s semifinal victory. “I like our pressure defense. Hopefully they haven’t seen much of what we do all year. I’m sure they’ve got film, but once we get on the floor and get into them, I’m hoping we can nullify some of their bigs.

“I think our guards are great, good matchups there. We’re going to have to get to the boards. We can’t let them get two, three, four rebounds offensively on the boards.”

While the matchup against Fort Loramie is set to be their toughest yet, the Blue Devils are going into today’s game with the same confidence that’s gotten them to this stage.

“No disrespect to them, but we don’t care who we play, we’re gonna play our game and we’re just gonna come out hard and put our hearts into it,” senior forward Sophia Costantino said. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for years, so what is there to lose.”

The key for the Devils heading into the state final is the same as it’s been in every game before, just stick to “their game” and let the pieces fall where they may.

“Coach always tells us to play our game, and to keep our speed,” senior Taylor Tuchek said. “We love to pressure people and play hard defense and if they can’t score, then we can score and get ahead and just pull through.

“If we just play our game, everything else will fall in line. If they play our speed, we’re in good hands.”

That attitude has helped carry the team to a 24-2 record with its only losses being to two of the area’s best big schools, Warren G. Harding and West Branch.

Their confidence has kept them from shrinking, even as the lights get brighter and the stage gets bigger.

“We’ve got some kids, honest to goodness, they don’t think we’re ever going to lose,” Matisi said. “We’ve got one kid who has just been going all-out, and she’s not going to let us (lose). They’re in desperation mode every second of the game and they truly don’t believe that anybody can beat them.”

The source of their confidence is each other. With how long they’ve been with each other, the Blue Devils, and the seniors especially, feed off each other’s energy to push each other.

“It’s all support,” Maddy Howard said. “We bring each other up. We carry each other through anything. We’ve been together so long that we just have a bond. We feed off of each other’s energy, so as long as one of us is up, we’re all up.”

No matter who they’ve been facing, it’s been all smiles on the McDonald bench. With assistant coach Mike Kollar getting just as excited as the girls during big moments and rotation players hyping the crowd up from their seats on the bench, the positivity and energy has been like having a sixth player on the court.

“A positive mindset at this time in the season is everything,” senior Molly Howard said. “You’re playing great teams, but you have to know that you’re also a great team. I mean we worked to be here, so we have to stay focused.”

Over the course of the team’s seven tournament games leading to the state final, McDonald has outscored its opponents by a combined 469-201 and averaged 67 points-per-game.

Despite having no issue scoring, the team’s real success has come from its defense. The Blue Devils have held opponents under 20 points (five times) more times than they’ve surrendered over 45 points (three times).

McDonald’s two tallest players, Molly and Maddy Howard, both listed at 5-10, have been key factors in the team’s defensive prowess and will be even more crucial today as Fort Loramie has five players listed at 5-10 or taller.

With Fort Loramie having a size advantage, that confidence will need to translate into toughness as some players will be guarding much bigger players than they’re used to.

While today’s game is for all the marbles, McDonald is taking the same approach they have all season. For them, just as it’s been through districts and regionals, it’s just another game.

“Every game we step on the court, it’s just another game,” senior guard Lucia Wolford said. “I know that there’s always a lot of pressure. Obviously, we’re on a big stage, everyone’s watching, our whole community’s here, but it’s just another game in the end. It’s just another high school basketball game. Win or lose, we’re all going to leave it on the court.”

A win will mark the first state title in McDonald girls basketball history.

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