By Chuck Housteau
ALLIANCE — When North Canton Hoover elected to hold the ball in the final minute of overtime in its Division I sectional final against East, the Panthers were just hoping to force a second overtime.
The amazing events that unfolded in the final 15 seconds however, gave East a thrilling 55-50 victory and a trip to the district semifinals on Wednesday against Canton McKinley.
Austintown Fitch was eliminated from the tournament in the afternoon’s opening contest, 76-30, by McKinley.
East’s Briana Dawson sank the second of two free throws after missing the first to give the Panthers (15-7) a 51-50 lead with just 0.4 seconds remaining.
That set off Hoover coach Paul Wackerly who argued the foul call both prior to and after Dawson’s game winning shot. Wackerly was assessed two technical fouls and ejected from the contest.
A bench technical was also handed to the Vikings and Chelsea Bennett made four free tosses to seal the win for the Panthers.
“Boy that was a great finish,” said East coach Taniesha Franklin. “It’s a great win for our program and for the city of Youngstown.
“I’m so proud of those girls in that lockerroom right now.”
Dawson’s heroics were set up after Hoover held the ball at the top of the key while East sat patiently back in a zone defense.
Wackerly called timeout to set up the potential winning shot with just 15 seconds remaining.
Both teams employed the same strategy at the end of regulation and it resulted in a missed Viking shot and overtime.
In the extra session, Hoover worked the play to a wide-open Hannah Roan and when her shot missed the mark, Dawson went for the loose ball rebound and was fouled.
The clock showed 0.4 seconds left.
After a lot of protest and timeouts, Dawson stepped to the line and missed the first attempt. But the senior and University of Akron recruit, who struggled with her shot from the field and the foul line for most of the game, came through with the game-winner.
“Boy was I nervous,” Dawson said. “I was shaking so I was kind of glad they called the second timeout so I could calm down.
“I had confidence the second one would go down but I think everyone was praying.”
Bethany Hines, who had sparked the Panthers with great 3-point shooting in the first half said it was the greatest feeling when Dawson’s shot went through the basket.
“We’ve worked so hard to learn how to finish games and now we’ve done it twice in a row when not many people have given us a chance.”
East was seeded sixth in the tournament and Hoover third and the consensus was that the Panthers were a clear underdog to the playoff-tested Vikings.
“We’ve made this run with our defense,” Franklin said. “We know they have great shooters and we wanted to put pressure on their shooters at all times.”
East plays strictly a zone defense but displayed both a passive and aggressive forms of it that flustered Hoover at times.
The contest was back-and-forth throughout although East grabbed a brief nine-point lead, 29-20, on a basket by Hines at the start of the third period.
Hines led East in scoring with 17 points on five 3-point baskets and two free throws.
Hoover seemed to grab momentum late in the fourth quarter and opened up a 46-41 lead with 2:50 left in regulation.
But after a timeout, Alex Hines came off the bench to drill a 3-pointer and Bennett hit a runner in the lane with 1:25 left in regulation to knot the game at 46-46.
“I just wanted to get off a good shot,” Bennett said. “It felt good when I let it go and I was so happy that we tied the game.”
Bennett, who tallied 16 points, also hit a big basket early in overtime to give East a 48-46 lead.
“All the girls played super on both ends of the court,” said Franklin who last led a City team, Rayen, to the district tournament as a player. “We have a lot of work to do to make a run at a great Canton McKinley team.”
Hannah Romano and Lindsey Fiala led the Vikings in scoring with 13 points.
In the opener, McKinley dominated the Falcons from the start.
The Bulldogs (18-3) opened the game with a 16-2 run and were never threatened by the young Falcons.
Fitch (5-16) got 12 points from Erica Braxton and eight points from Te’Ann Smith.