WEST CHESTER TWP. — Dan Wallace measured the amount of growth his Lakota East High School girls basketball team had made in recent years.
“Every Lakota East record was shattered,” the coach said. “Wins. Wins in a row. Least amount of losses. Steals. Shot blocks.”
The one thing the Thunderhawks were searching for Wednesday night was their first-ever trip to a regional final. But the Kings Knights stood in the way of that.
Senior Madison French’s milestone of surpassing the 1,000-point mark was overshadowed as Lakota East dropped a gritty 49-47 Division I regional semifinal loss to Kings in a full gymnasium at Lakota West.
“The entire record sheet got erased,” Wallace said. “This group of girls has flipped this program from a struggle to one of the top teams in the state in the last four years. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids.”
The Thunderhawks — ranked ninth in the final state poll — finished the season at 22-4 and graduate seniors Savannah Smith, Payton Woody, Riley Wood, Jaila Robinson, Mary Kenrich and French.
French, a Miami University signee, scored a game-high 14 points, while Smith had eight and Woody added seven.
“It was unbelievable how dialed in they were this year,” Wallace said. “The leadership from this group — it was unbelievable the sacrifice they made with playing for each other.”
Kings (22-5), which had four players score in double figures, moves on to face Princeton in a regional final on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Lakota West.
Madi Barnett led the Knights with 13 points, while Kassie Ingram (11), Sami Drew (10) and Riley Wells (10) also contributed on the offensive end.
“We just battled for 32 minutes,” Kings coach Steve Green said. “We were lucky enough to make one more play.”
The largest lead of the game was within the first three minutes. Smith drained two 3-pointers, French dropped in a bucket and then Emma Fohl’s steal and layup put Lakota East on top 10-2 with 5:33 left in the opening quarter.
Kings battled back to take an 11-10 advantage on a Barnett trey with four minutes showing on the first-quarter clock. The margin never reached more than four points either way the remainder of the game.
The score was tied at 18-18 heading into the second quarter, and the Knights owned a 35-33 lead at halftime. Both teams fired close to 50% from the floor in the first half.
“Kings played incredible,” Wallace said. “They came out and battled. They played tremendous. You’ve got to give them credit. They made the right calls.”
Lakota East outscored Kings 8-2 in the third quarter, and things picked back up in an action-packed fourth.
“I kept telling them to enjoy the moment — enjoy the atmosphere,” said Green, whose Knights are riding an 11-game winning streak. “Every timeout I said, ‘Have fun. Look around. Enjoy it.’ I even told a dad joke before the game just to loosen them up.”
Barnett’s 3-pointer with about two minutes left to play were the last points put on the scoreboard.
“We still had a corner 3 to win the game, and that thing just rattled out,” Wallace said. “It’s a tournament. And when push comes to shove, you just have to make stuff happen sometimes.”
Lakota East’s last district title came in the 2010-11 season under then-head coach Nikki Drew, whose daughter is Kings junior Sami Drew.
Wallace said he was impressed with how much his team has improved the last four seasons, specifically French.
“She’s going to go to Miami and continue to improve her game,” Wallace said of French. “She’s doing all the little things that make great players.
“You always preach it and not everybody buys in,” Wallace added. “But these kids did everything they could. I just loved coaching them every single day. That’s when you know you’re doing something right with the kids.”