AUSTINTOWN - With 8.2 seconds remaining in the Division II district final between West Branch and Canfield, freshman Warrior point guard Melinda Trimmer drove the lane and was fouled by Lady Cardinal junior Abby Baker.
Canfield led 40-39. Trimmer stepped up to the charity stripe, took a deep breath as hundreds of Canfield faithful stomped, screamed, hollered and waved their arms.
Trimmer found nothing but net on her first attempt.
Still composed, Trimmer took another deep breath and stepped up for her second try, but it was just off the mark. Canfield senior captain Sarah Vrabel grabbed the rebound. Vrabel quickly passed the ball to freshman point guard Rachel Tinkey. Tinkey drove frantically toward half court before tossing a lob pass to junior Sabrina Mangapora. Mangapora dribbled to just inside the 3-point line, stopped and fired while time seemingly stood still inside the Austintown-Fitch gymnasium.
The ball floated through the air and found the mark as the buzzer sounded giving Canfield a 42-40 win. The Lady Cardinals bench and stands erupted in celebration, while the Warrior-faithful were in shock.
"Our kids just kept believing," Canfield head coach Pat Pavlansky said. "I'm just so proud of them. You've got a lot of kids here who understand how to win. That, and Sabrina just hit a big shot."
Not only did Mangapora hit the game's winning bucket, just moments before she shuffled her feet back beyond the arc and drilled a 3-pointer that gave Canfield the lead.
"People who don't think she can shoot the ball well enough to play in college are out of their minds," Pavlansky said. "I'll let them watch the tape."
Mangapora finished with a game-high 25 points, but it was the final five that hurt the Warriors most.
In a game that featured six ties and 13 lead changes, West Branch led by as many as five points twice taking an 18-13 lead into half-time.
But the two free throws by senior Rebekah Zets in the fourth quarter gave West Branch its final lead of the night.
When they needed to, the Warriors just couldn't contain Mangapora.
"I knew what the score was, I knew Tinkey would get me the perfect pass, and I knew it was my job to put it in," Mangapora said.
"Coach Pav always told us of course it's important what we do in the beginning of the season, but we want to be playing our best at the end in the tournament. I think that really proved true here this afternoon."
West Branch Warriors head coach Walt DeShields was stunned and heartbroken. It was the second-straight year his squad fell in the district final .
"One thing our kids did was set their goals high," DeShields said.
"As a coach, you want your players to set their goals high. Every year we go for the league title first and the district title next. We had opportunities in both of those games and fell a little bit short."
West Branch had two-point lead following Zets' free throws, and they also managed a turnover. But an errant West Branch in-bounds pass set up Mangapora's late 3-pointer, and a district title slipped through their grasp.
"Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way," DeShields said. "We had great senior leaders, and we're going to miss them. All four are different individuals, but they left some footprints behind for their teammates in the future. I'm just so proud of the team. They battled to the very end. They played hard and left it all on the floor."
Trimmer finished with a team-high 14 points for the Lady Warriors (21-3). Taryn Hahn finished with nine points, and Pavin Heath added six points and six rebounds.
Tinkey added seven points and seven rebounds for the Lady Cardinals (17-7) who advance to play Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown Tuesday at Barberton High School.
"West Branch is a really good team, and they got better," Pavlansky said. "That's a much better team then we played on Jan. 4. It was a two-point game then, we had a two point game here. I knew it was going to be close. We told them 'we're playing 32 minutes against a really good team. It's gonna be tough, and you've gotta be tougher than you've ever been."'
- West Branch won the regular season meeting 47-45 in Beloit.
- Neither team led by more than five points at any point in the game. Canfield's biggest margin was 31-26 early in the fourth quarter.
- West Branch seniors Zets, Kelsey Loiselle, Niki Carlton and Katie Kubeck played their final contest for the Warriors.
- Pavlansky said the team practices the last-second situation it found itself in. "We usually do it with three seconds," he said. "But we do it all the time in practice."
E-mail B.J. Lisko at firstname.lastname@example.org
CANFIELD: 7 6 16 13 - 42
WEST BRANCH: 8 10 8 14 - 40
WEST BRANCH SCORING:?Melinda Trimmer 3-5-14, Kelsey Loiselle 2-0-5, Rebekah Zets 1-2-4, Niki Carlton 1-0-2, Pavin Heath 3-0-6, Taryn Hahn 4-1-9. TEAM TOTALS:?14, 8-12, 40.
CANFIELD SCORING:?Paige Baker 1-0-2, Allison Pavlansky 2-0-4, Sarah Vrabel 1-0-2, Rachel Tinkey 3-0-7, Sabrina Mangapora 10-2-25, Kayla Barko 0-2-2. TEAM TOTALS:?17, 4-4, 42.
THREE POINTERS:?West Branch 4 (Trimmer 3, Loiselle), Canfield (Mangapora 3, Tinkey).