The Golden Flashes' 50-44 win was only the Indians' second loss of the season.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CHAMPION -- The Hubbard High girls basketball team must have a message for Champion: Thank you very much.
As the final seconds ticked away Thursday and Champion's 50-44 victory over Girard became a reality, coach Jeff Thompson shouted, "We did it!", as he was engulfed by a sea of purple and gold.
With sparkling execution of its slow-down game, Champion (12-8, 10-6) protected its home court against Girard (18-2, 14-2), whose loss enabled Hubbard (17-3, 15-1) to win the Trumbull Athletic Conference crown.
This was supposed to be Girard's night. With its 18-1 record and No. 2 seeding in the Division III tournament at United, the Indians were looking for TAC-title supremacy for the second straight season, albeit by sharing with Hubbard.
But on Senior Night, when Elizabeth Wood and Michelle Conatsey were honored, Champion had other plans.
"We don't get a lot of respect, but beating a team like this should give us some respect now," Wood said.
Instead of looking to shoot, the Golden Flashes preferred to pass. Their deliberate offensive attack was instrumental, leading to 61-percent shooting (14-of-23) from the field and 91-percent (20-of-22) at the foul line.
"They went to the stall game, which was a good tactic," Girard coach Andy Saxon said. "We didn't get many steals off their stall. They kept the ball out of our hands."
Although Girard defenders hounded Champion, forcing it into 25 turnovers, Thompson's offense made its possessions count.
"When we play Hubbard or Girard, we can't play a normal game with them because of their athleticism," Thompson said. "So we have to control the tempo of the game."
Thompson instructed Champion to make a minimum of four to six passes per possession while aiming to eat 30 to 40 seconds off the clock.
"They want to go up and down the floor as much as they can. That's their game plan," Wood said of the Indians. "We wanted to slow it down, and we did that for most of the game."
Girard asserted itself in the fourth quarter by scoring the first 12 points and taking a 44-40 lead with three minutes remaining.
"When we got the lead, we made mistakes," Saxon said. "We had too many individual plays instead of keeping the team concept."
Although Champion went the first 6:05 of the fourth quarter without scoring and fell behind, it wasn't about to fold.
"You never want anyone to celebrate on your home floor," Thompson said. "It is about pride."
The Golden Flashes finished the game with 10 straight points, eight of which came at the foul line. They took the lead for good on two free throws by sophomore Jessica Wood with 42.7 seconds remaining.
Wood went 13-of-14 at the foul line and scored a game-high 20 points. In addition to her free throws, Wood's biggest shot of the game came at the third-quarter buzzer when she made a 3-pointer and was fouled. Her four-point play put Champion ahead 40-32.
Junior Jessica Carpenter added 16 points for Champion. Sophomore Cachet Murray (15 points) and senior Tealle Hunkus (13) led Girard.
The Golden Flashes are seeded fourth at the Div. III Ashtabula Edgewood tournament and will play the Edgewood-Lakeview winner on Thursday.
"I don't think there's any team better than Girard at the tournament, so we have a chance up there," Elizabeth Wood said. "If we play like that up there, we can go pretty far."