PARMA – Turned back in a Class A district final a year ago, Mason’s roster consisting mainly of juniors and seniors was ready to capture a district championship on Friday night.
The Bulldogs were able to in thrilling fashion.
Senior Autumn Kissman tied the game in the final minute and then won it with a lay-in as time expired to give Mason a 41-39 win against Okemos.
“Coming back and being in this position like last year, it gave us a lot of confidence,” senior guard Audrey Wassner said. “It was confidence within that position. We knew it was going to be a close game and we knew even if we got behind we could come back and win.”
“We set our goals at the beginning and this was one of them. We wanted to win a district championship,” Mason coach Jen Walkington said. “We haven’t done that at Mason in 17 years so this is huge for us and the program and these girls deserved this. They’ve worked so hard all season.”
GIRLS BASKETBALL DISTRICT FINALS:
Okemos rallied after being down by large margins at two different points in the game. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-9 lead after one quarter, but the Chiefs held Mason to just four second-quarter points and tied the game going into halftime.
Mason began the second half on a 14-0 run following a free throw to start by Okemos freshman Jasmine Clerkley, who led the Chiefs with 15 points and became a stronger force for Okemos as the game went along.
Junior Katherine Rochon hit her lone field goal in the second half to begin the run for Mason (14-8) and was followed with baskets from senior Johnna Parsons and Kissman to force Okemos to take a timeout just 1:34 into the third quarter.
The Bulldogs continued to stretch the lead after the timeout, with two 3-pointers from Wassner and another basket by Kissman.
“I knew we needed some momentum to get us through. I knew I needed to step up,” Wassner said. “I wasn’t really getting a lot of shots off at the beginning so making those clutch 3s was important.”
Within the run, Okemos sophomore Laya Hartman picked up her fourth foul.
The Chiefs fell behind by as many as 13 points at 35-22, but managed to crawl within seven points at 37-30 by the end of the third quarter thanks to baskets by Clerkley and senior Oghenehoke Johnson, along with a pressure defense that gave the Bulldogs problems.
Like the second quarter, Mason scored just four fourth-quarter points. But they came when the Bulldogs needed it most.
Okemos surged in front 38-37 with another basket from Clerkley. The Chiefs added a free throw from Hartman to increase the lead to two.
Kissman tied the game with a finish within the final minute after missing multiple close-range opportunities throughout the fourth quarter.
Mason got the ball back and in the final 10 seconds had two inbounds from underneath the basket. The first was broken up and Hartman dived for it, but came to her feet with possession and was called for traveling.
Oakland signee Autumn Kissman had the winning bucket in Mason's district final win tonight over Okemos pic.twitter.com/tw8hAUDqkb— Brian Calloway (@brian_calloway) March 4, 2017
Mason got the ball underneath again and Kissman converted another turnaround basket after an entry pass to finish with 16 points and send her team on to the regional round.
“My teammates really helped me with that,” Kissman said of trying to avoid frustration in the fourth quarter as the lead slipped away. “They kept saying, ‘Autumn, you got this’ and did a nice job passing me the ball and getting me open.”
“In that time of the game, in crunch time, we’re always going to go to her,” Walkington said. “We know she can finish. She was a little frustrated, but she came through in the end and we won the game because of it.”
For Okemos (15-8), which had won by four and eight points in two previous district games, the game and much of the season was a glimpse into the future.
Five of the players who scored for the Chiefs were freshmen or sophomores.
“This is a great opportunity for our young kids to be in a position that they were in tonight,” Okemos coach Kristen Rasmussen said. “They’ve never been in a situation like this before. Looking at the future, it could be really bright for us. We just have to learn from these experiences and move forward and I hope they take that sting of losing right at the buzzer and get after it in the summer and into next season.”