The Twinsburg girls basketball team isn’t used to playing from behind.
But the Tigers did just that for the first 25½ minutes of Saturday afternoon’s Akron Division I district final against rival Hudson.
The Tigers (26-0) went on to win 55-52 and advance to the regional tournament, but it didn’t come easy for the two-time defending state champs.
“I knew we were going to have a battle on our hands,” Twinsburg coach Julie Solis said. “I’m proud of my kids for fighting back when things weren’t going well.”
The Tigers, who have won their past 70 games against Ohio opponents, could not have had much else go wrong for them from the opening tip-off.
Hudson senior forward Hannah Boesinger scored the first basket of the game, and the Explorers (20-6) mounted a 10-2 lead before Solis called a timeout.
It didn’t stop Hudson’s momentum. Boesinger blocked a shot, made a 3-pointer, then got a steal and converted a three-point play to make it 16-2.
“We knew we needed to get off to a good start,” Hudson coach Dennis Lawler said. “We couldn’t get behind early against a team as good as Twinsburg.”
Trailing 20-9 after the first quarter, things again got tough for Twinsburg when senior guard Ashley Morrissette, a Purdue recruit and one of the top players in the state, picked up her third foul and was forced to the bench.
Still trailing and with their star player on the bench, a sense of panic could be felt from the Tigers, but their defense kept them in the game.
“I think I was panicking more than them to be honest,” Solis said. “I think our kids handled that situation very well.
The Explorers were held without a field goal in the second quarter but also limited the Tigers’ scoring and led 24-20 at halftime.
Twinsburg senior center Char-dell Dunnigan scored the opening basket of the second half to cut the deficit to two, and the dream of an upset seemed to be coming to a close for the Explorers.
But Hudson senior guard Brynne Drohan responded with back-to-back 3-pointers and the Explorers went on a 10-0 run to extend the lead back to double digits.
The Tigers then showed why they’re the top team in the state, answering with a 12-2 run of their own to cut the deficit to 38-37 by the end of the third quarter.
“We knew we would make a run,” Lawler said. “They just made one more than we did. That was the difference.”
After tying the score early in the fourth quarter, a series of defensive plays changed the momentum of the game.
On three consecutive possessions, the ball was stolen at half court by a Tigers defender for an easy layup; first by senior guard Brooke Smith, then Morrissette, then Smith again.
In the blink of an eye, the Tigers not only had their first lead, but also were ahead 47-41.
“They knew they needed to take their defense to a different level — and they did,” Solis said.
Morrissette, who was held to only seven points through the first three quarters, stepped up and continued to apply pressure late, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points to seal the game.
“We’ve been down before, but not like that,” Solis said. “This was a good test for us going into regionals.”
Morrissette finished with 17 points, three blocks and three steals. Dunnigan finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Boesinger led the Explorers with 25 points, seven rebounds, five steals and three blocks.
Twinsburg will play Middleburg Heights Midpark in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Canton Civic Center.
Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps.