Sunday, March 19, 2000

Mason girls win state title

Munoz scores 18 to lead Comets

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Michelle Munoz is in the center of the celebration.
(Gary Landers photo)
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(AP photo)
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        COLUMBUS — The celebration by the Mason girls basketball team broke out five seconds before the final buzzer.

        With Jere' Issenmann dribbling the ball in the backcourt, Michelle Munoz, Beth Jones and Racquel Ellis jumped for joy, realizing the Comets had finally won a state basketball championship.

        Behind an 18-point effort by Munoz, Mason defeated six-time and defending state champion Pickerington 36-25 to capture the Division I title before 7,375 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

        “I just can't describe the feeling that I have right now,” Munoz said afterward with a huge grin. “To know that you've given everything you had and you're so drained, and to come out on top — it's just an awesome feeling.”

        The six-foot junior cen ter, named Ohio's Ms. Basketball earlier in the week, was knocked hard to the floor with the score tied 15-15 early in the third quarter. From that point, she took over.

        “They got me the ball and I wanted to contribute in any way I could,” said Munoz, who shot 9-for-13 from the field. “When I got knocked down in the third quarter, it got me going. I said that if they weren't going to call it, that was all right.”

        Munoz scored four consecutive points and Issenmann launched a 3-pointer to push the Comets into a 22-15 lead.

        Munoz scored two more field goals before Pickerington's Kasey Kraft sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer, cutting the Mason lead to 26-18 going into the fourth quarter.

Michelle Munoz
(Gary Landers photo)
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Racquel Ellis
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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Jenny Imbus
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        Munoz provided the offensive punch to start the fourth quarter. She scored on a spinning layup at the 6:57 mark and added a baseline jumper with 5:37 remaining for a 30-21 lead.

        The Tigers defense went to a triple-team to stop Munoz, but the strategy back fired. Instead of scoring, Munoz assisted on two field goals by Jenny Imbus at the 4:50 and 3:27 marks of the fourth quarter.

Coach Gerry Lackey
(Jeff Swinger photos)
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Ellis (left) and Imbus
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Beth Jones
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        Mason's aggressive 1-3-1 defense in the second half held Pickerington's offense in check. The Tigers converted only five of 20 shots from the field in the second half and were 10-of-37 in the game.

        “We take a lot of pride in our defense and if there's another team that plays as good a defense as we do, it's Pickerington, so we pretty much expected a defensive battle,” Mason coach Gerry Lackey said.

        “Mason likes to control the tempo and they did a great job at it tonight,” Pickerington coach Dave Butcher said. “Our goal every game is to hold teams under 40 points. We felt if we could hold then under 45, we would win. I never dreamed we would only score 25.”

        Imbus scored eight points and Jones had seven, all from the free-throw line.

        Issenmann, Munoz and Ellis each had three assists and Munoz and Jones each grabbed four rebounds.

        Mason, ranked No.1 in Ohio and No.2 in the USA Today Super 25 Poll, was making its third appearance in the state championship game. They lost the final in 1997 and 1999.

        One of the happiest Comets was Jones, Mason's second leading scorer as a junior, who suffered a sprained ankle in last year's semifinal victory and was forced to sit out the championship game.

        “The Lord has a reason for everything,” Jones said. “When I couldn't play in the championship game last year and we lost to Pickerington, it lighted the spark at the beginning of the season.”

        Nearly 30 minutes after the game, the Comets were still running around the Schottenstein Center piling on top of one another, hugging fans and signing autographs.

        Munoz hugged her father, football Hall of Famer Anthony.

        “This was really special for me to have my family here,” Munoz said. “It just lifts me up to know that they were here and that they were behind me. I'm glad that I could share this with them and all of our great fans.”

        Kevin Aldridge contributed to this report.

        PICKERINGTON (25) — Young 3-8 1-2 7, Holbrook 0-6 1-2 1, Kraft 5-9 0-0 12, McPhatter 0-1 0-0 0, Fassbender 1-6 0-0 2, Holbrook 1-1 0-0 2, Casey 0-2 0-0 0, Askew 0-3 0-0 0, Balleau 0- 0-3 1. Totals: 10-37 3-7 25.

        MASON (36) — Issenmann 1-5 0-0 3, Imbus 4-6 0-0 8, Munoz 9-13 0-1 18, Lippert 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 0-2 7-9 7, Ellis 0-1 0-0 0.Totals: 14-27 7-10 36.

        Pickerington ....... 5  7  6  7—25

        Mason ....... 8  7  11  10—36

        3-pointers: Rebounds: M 21 (Munoz 4, Jones 4). P 19 (Kraft 6). Assists: M 10 (Issenmann 3, Munoz 3, Ellis 3). P 4. Turnovers: Mason 11, P 11.Steals: M 4 (Imbus 2). P 1. Blocks: M 2 (Issenmann 2). P 0. Records: Mason 27-0, Pickerington 25-3.


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