The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Sports

March 13, 2014

Buzzer-beater in OT lifts Hickory past defending state champs

- — With 4 seconds remaining in overtime during Thursday night’s PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal-round game, Holly Grober had tears in her eyes.

Tears of agony.

Megan Chess had attempted just 2 shots and not scored a point.

She finished the game scoreless.

Nikki Arbanas took the game’s final shot, but never actually saw the end result.

And Hickory High girls basketball team was facing the prospect of having its season short-circuited by South Park for the 3rd consecutive year.

Four seconds later (approximately 7 minutes in real time), Grober’s tears turned to joy, Chess’ pass set up the game’s final score, and Arbanas’ 3-point bomb at the buzzer lifted the Lady Hornets to a 55-54 victory.

“ ... We share the joy,” Hickory headmaster Jeanette Whitehead said from the din of Farrell’s E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium.

“On the girls’ shoes, it reads ‘Next play,’ and that next play is, no matter whatever may occur, we have to have short-term memory and we move on to that next play,” Whitehead explained. “The game wasn’t over. We constantly preach, ‘We play ’til that last buzzer sounds,’ and that game wasn’t over.”

“ ... I didn’t know I made it, I just kind’ve threw it up there, just like every other shot,” Arbanas related. “I couldn’t have done it without Megan Chess’ pass — it was perfect.”

“My teammates picked me up, and I knew I had to pull it back together,” Grober related. “I still believed in my team, and they believed in me, so I couldn’t give up, ’cause I knew they hadn’t given up on me.”

With the score knotted at 52 in OT, Grober’s cross-court pass was pilfered by South Park’s Jessica Jones, who subsequently scored a layup with 3.2 ticks to play.

During a timeout hailed by Whitehead, the officials conferred and determined 4 full seconds remained. Chess’ ensuing inbounds pass was gathered in by Grober at midcourt, and another timeout was called with 1.5 seconds.

Coming out of Hickory’s huddle, from the sideline directly in front of the Lady Hornets’ bench, Chess chucked a cross-court lob pass to the opposite wing, where a waiting Arbanas aced the game-winner.

“We knew it was a screen (by Brandi Beader) comin’ off, but they really disguised it pretty good, and the timing of it was great,” gracious South Park Head Coach Reggie Wells assessed. “I think my girl tried to fight through the screen, but she just couldn’t get out there in time.”

Regulation play resulted in 8 deadlocks and 10 lead changes.

Personal foul-saddled Lindsey Noss nudged South Park to a 52-49 lead 18 seconds into OT. But Beader bucketed the equalizer from the left wing at the 1:15 juncture following a Lady Eagles’ turnover.

The teams traded turnovers and times-out from that point until Jones’ play on Hickory’s 21st miscue.

When Whitehead hailed the first of her two remaining times-out, Grober gained a glimpse, perhaps, of her scholastic cage career concluding mere miles from her Hermitage home.

“ ... Those things can happen, but she didn’t quit,” Whitehead related regarding Grober’s errant pass. “I’ve seen some girls who’ll say, ‘Take me out.’ But she said, ‘No, coach, I’ve got this.’

“When we went on the baseline (for Chess’ initial inbounds pass), I said, ‘The ball’s comin’ in your hands,‘ and that gave (Grober) a short-term memory,” Whitehead related. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Grober grabbed a game-high dozen rebounds (the teams battled to a 33-all draw on the boards) and scored 20. She was a flawless 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, helping Hickory to  17-for-19 marksmanship.

“I believe in these girls. Sometimes I might doubt myself, but I don’t doubt this team,” Grober explained.

Arbanas annexed a game-high 23 points for Hickory (27-0), which will meet WPIAL champion Blackhawk — a 51-37 winner over Villa Maria — on Saturday at a site and time to be announced.

“I definitely didn’t have any doubt, but,” Arbanas emphasized, “I would trust anyone on our basketball team to take that shot; it just happened to be me and I put it in.”

Beader brokered an 8-point, 6-rebound, 3-assist line and Nicole LaCava lent a 4-point, 8-rebound, 3-assist contribution for Hickory, which hit on 16 of 44 floor shots (36.3 percent).

WPIAL runner-up South Park (22-6) was led by Allison McGrath’s 17 markers, Noss’ 14 points and 4 assists — though she was whistled for her 4th foul with 4:15 remaining in the 3rd period, not returning until 3:59 of the 4th frame — Halie Torris’ 9-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist line, and Amanda Quinn’s 8 points.

The Lady Eagles ended 22 for 58 (38 percent) from the field — tossing in 9 triples — but only 1 for 2 from the line, and committed 19 miscues, 7 of which occurred in the game’s final 12 minutes.

“I thought coming into the game that we were a stronger team than we were last year,” Whitehead said. “And the experience, I think it helped. Our girls were hungry; we weren’t going to roll over this time and our ‘runs’ were indicative of that.”

Hickory had 16 first-half turnovers, compared with only 5 field goals. But 15-for-15 free-throw shooting kept it in contention. Noss notched a baseline runner with about 3.1 seconds in the half, producing South Park’s 29-27 lead.

“We knew we had to come after ’em. They have that record, and we knew that’s not an accident. We knew we had to be the aggessor,” said Wells. “I think we definitely felt like we could play with them.”

“We were down by, I think ten (actually, 17-6 with 1:11 left in the 1st quarter), but we kept fighting back,” Whitehead said. “And the one thing I told the girls is, ‘We’ve gotta match their intensity.’

“South Park is a solid, solid ballclub. They’re strong, they’re physical and they’re skilled, so we had to match every one of those attributes they have, and I thought the girls did that,” Whitehead added.

“She carried it home,” Whitehead said of Arbanas, quickly adding, “but although Nikki knocked the shot down, the assist came through Megan, and the pass was delivered in the open court to get us closer, and it came through Holly Grober’s hands.

“Mentally, we’re constantly preachin’ and preachin’ so that in the huddle, I’m saying, ‘Hey, guys, it’s just like practice: Get the ball down the floor, but we’ve got to focus,” Whitehead concluded.

———

PIAA CLASS AAA PLAYOFFS

2ND ROUND

HICKORY       9    18    12    10    6    55

SOUTH PARK 19      10  14   6    5    54   


HICKORY — Arbanas 8-3-3-23, Chess 0-0-0-0, Grober 5-10-10-20, LaCava 1-2-4-4, Beader 2-2-2-8, Shephard 0-0-0-0, O’Brien 0-0-0-0, Moore 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Arbanas 4, Beader 2. Totals: 16-17-19-55.

SOUTH PARK — McGrath 7-0-0-17, Noss 6-0-0-14, Toris 3-1-2-9, Quinn 3-0-0-8, Miller 1-0-0-2, Smith 1-0-0-2, Jones 1-0-0-2, Clydesdale 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: McGrath 3, Noss 2, Quinn 2, Torris 2. Totals: 22-1-2-54.

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