The ball bounced, seemingly in slow motion, from the back of the rim to the front, curled to the right, then dropped harmlessly to the court at Walsh University’s Alumni Arena.
By the time Miranda Diesz’s 3-point attempt from the top of the key landed and was scooped up by North Canton Hoover’s Kaitlynn Runner, there was nothing any of the Blue Streaks could do but watch and try to grasp what had just happened.
“We came up a couple points short of doing something that was maybe impossible at Lake High School,” Lake coach Henry Cobb said. “It’s a bittersweet moment. It’s bitter because we’re going to lose our four seniors, but sweet because of what these kids have accomplished the last three years for our school, our basketball program and our community.”
Diesz’s shot would have tied a memorable North Canton
Division I district final, but instead the Vikings escaped with a 39-36 comeback win in front of a packed gym divided evenly between blue-clad Lake fans and their orange-wearing Hoover counterparts.
As the clock hit 0:00 and the final buzzer sounded, Diesz could only bend over, hands on her knees, staring at the floor in front of her as tears filled the eyes of nearly every Lake player.
“You tell her you love her, that’s what you tell her because she’s had a great career, and if we had it to do over, we’d let her shoot it again because she’d make it,” Cobb said of the final shot by his senior guard.
The Vikings (21-4) raced to the other end of the court, celebrating wildly in front of their bench after a back-and-forth game in which neither team led by more than five points. Ultimately, the Vikings hit clutch shots down the stretch and played solid defense to hold Lake to six points in the decisive fourth quarter while scoring 14 of their own.
Entering the final frame, the Blue Streaks (21-5) had built the largest lead of the night for either side at 30-25, but they also were battling foul trouble that sent key starters to the bench for significant chunks of the second half.
Leading scorer McKenna Stephens, who paced the Blue Streaks with 14 points, junior sharpshooter Baylee Hymes and junior guard Bree Libby all ended with four fouls and sat for long stretches because of their foul troubles.
“That’s part of tournament basketball, and the kids that came in off the bench did well. Kelsey Bryte hit a big bucket and a couple of free throws,” Cobb added.
Cobb juggled his lineup as best he could to prevent key players from fouling out, but Hoover’s pressure defense forced the Blue Streaks into 2-of-9 shooting and four turnovers in the fourth. Still, Lake’s defense allowed it to hold the lead until the 4:30 mark, when back-to-back 3-pointers by junior forward Kelsey Lensman and Runner gave the Vikings a 34-32 edge.
Page 2 of 2 - The score remained tied until Hoover’s Julie Worley made 1 of 2 free throws with 2:51 left to extend the lead to three. Lake countered with a jumper by Diesz, and after the two teams traded baskets, the Blue Streaks used their full-court pressure to force a turnover by junior forward Kaylee Stroemple, setting up a chance to take the lead back.
Diesz narrowly missed a mid-range jumper, but the ball caromed out of bounds off a Hoover player and Cobb called a timeout to set up another shot. The ensuing inbounds play worked well and gave Hymes a solid look from just beyond the arc on the left wing. Her shot was just short and bounced out of bounds off a Lake player.
Stroemple sank two free throws after being fouled by Hymes, and without any timeouts left, Diesz hurried the ball up the court and found room just beyond the 3-point arc, straight in front of the basket. She let loose with the final shot as the entire gym waited in anticipation.
When the ball landed, it fell in an area where no Lake players were and Runner scooped it up as time ran out.
Such an ending was all but assured given the nip-and-tuck nature of the game. Hoover edged out to an 8-6 lead after a first quarter in which both sides struggled to relax and settle in. Lake steadied itself near the end of the period and went on a 10-2 run spanning the first and second quarters. The Vikings scrapped back to within one as Runner hit a triple to close the first-half score and send the game into the half at 18-17 in favor of the third-seeded Blue Streaks, who limited themselves to five turnovers in the half, giving themselves a chance to lead despite shooting 8 of 25 (32 percent).
Hoover, playing just six players in the game, seemed like it might run out of gas as the game went on, but the Vikings proved why they were the Federal League champions by gutting out the win in a game very different from the fast-paced style they like to play.
The top seed in the district didn’t have a single player in double figures, but was led by Stroemple, Worley and senior guard Kelsey Peare with nine points each.
Stephens and junior forward Baylen Drylund (10 points) came out aggressively in the second half, scoring their team’s first eight points as the Blue Streaks started to pull away. If not for four free throws in the latter sates of the period by Hoover, Lake may have been able to do just that. Instead, the lead remained at five entering the fourth, setting up the game’s dramatic conclusion.
“This far exceeded any expectations Henry Cobb had,” the veteran coach concluded. “We’re proud of these kids, we love them and … great ride. In about six to seven days, we’ll all look back and be pretty proud of what we accomplished.”