COLUMBUS — GlenOak coach Paul Wackerly and juniors Erica Warren and Hayley Smith patiently answered all the postgame questions from the depths of the Jerome Schottenstein Center for 11 minutes.
Exhausted, Wackerly then summed up Friday night's Division I state semifinal against Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame in six seconds: "Sometimes bigger, faster stronger wins. It just does. Nothing you can do about it."
There was nothing the Golden Eagles could do to stop the Cougars. Mount Notre Dame seized on GlenOak errors from the opening tip and used its superior size and length, experience and skill to carve out a 55-37 victory and advance to an 8 p.m. Saturday state championship game.
Freshman sensation KK Bransford, a 5-11 jumping jack, scored 13 points, grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, had four assists, two blocks and a steal against just one turnover to lead Mount Notre Dame (26-2). With 6-1 senior Julia Hoefling burying three 3-pointers, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds and senior guard Gabbie Marshall adding 11 points, it was too much for GlenOak to contend with on a night it shot 31.9 percent from the floor and committed 17 turnovers.
The loss ended a school-record winning streak at 21 games for the Golden Eagles (23-3).
GlenOak won the opening tap but was called for over and back. Bransford drove the baseline off the turnover, got fouled, made the two free throws and that set the tone for the first half. Two 3-pointers by Hoefling gave Mount Notre Dame a 13-2 lead and the dazed Golden Eagles were playing from behind in a big way the rest of the game.
"I think we were all kind of, I don't want to say caught off guard, but just the feeling you got when you went on the floor you couldn't really explain it," Smith said. "Having both sides of the floor being filled with people, cheering for or against you, it was just very different for us. I think that kind of got in our heads and affected us."
Driving buckets by Aniyah Hall and Warren (eight points, five rebounds) in the final two minutes of the first quarter made it 13-6 and shot some life into GlenOak. But the Golden Eagles never got closer than seven points again, the killing stretch of the game coming in the final 90 seconds of the half.
After four points by Smith (10 points, seven rebounds) made it 25-14, Marshall hit two foul shots at the 1:21 mark. The Cougars then sprang a full-court press on GlenOak and it produced three turnovers and six easy points to spread the advantage from 11 points to 19 (33-14).
"That was huge," Mount Notre Dame coach Scott Rogers said. "We hadn't shown that little press to start the game and kind of caught them off guard a little bit. I've been on both sides of this, and sometimes it steamrolls and it's hard to slow everything down. ... From an emotional standpoint, that was big."
The Cougars held GlenOak scoreless for the final 4:34 of the third quarter to build an insurmountable 46-22 lead.
"I think our first time here was a great thing," Wackerly said. "What we did to get here, for GlenOak High School, for our community, was huge. So I don't look at it as a failure at all. I'm not into moral victories, obviously, but I do believe when you get to the Final Four it helps your community. ... for girls basketball to get that crowd, that community behind them I think is a really great success.
"Hats off to the entire team."