ALLIANCE: Not unfamiliar with last-second finishes or a flair for the dramatic, North Canton Hoover again came through when it mattered most in a Division I district final against Federal League rival Lake, pulling off another miracle comeback to win 51-49 on Saturday night.
In less than 90 seconds, Hoover had four steals, two three-point plays by senior Dom Iero and senior Harrison Blackledge’s game-winning bucket with 3.8 remaining to outscore the Blue Streaks 10-2 and overcome a six-point deficit.
The Vikings trailed by the same margin and almost the same amount of time in the district semifinal against Green on Thursday night, coming back to beat the Bulldogs in overtime. Hoover made sure lightning struck twice as it beat the Blue Streaks in the district final.
“I never thought we were going to lose this game,” said Iero, who scored a game-high 23 points. “Just like the other night when we were down six with two minutes to go, I think that’s when we shine. We’ve had three years of these wars and these battles [against Lake]. I’m glad it finally paid off.”
Neither side ever led by more than six, making Lake’s position with 1:44 remaining — ahead 47-41 with possession — that much more daunting. Hoover switched to a full-court press and the Vikings surged.
Iero swiped a steal at midcourt, was fouled at the basket, got the layup to fall and hit the free throw to make it 46-43 with 1:17 left.
Junior Nick Evans stole the ensuing inbound pass and fed it to Blackledge (16 points, four rebounds), who was fouled and hit both free throws. In a flash, Hoover drew within 46-45.
Iero and senior Alex Shingleton forced a third consecutive Lake turnover in the backcourt, hitting the ball out of bounds off a Lake guard. Iero then missed a 3-point attempt with a minute to go. The Blue Streaks still had a 47-46 lead and the ball.
Blackledge had a steal, again near midcourt, dribbled to the hoop but kicked it outside to Iero, who drained a 3-pointer from the corner to put Hoover ahead 49-47. The Vikings could feel it.
“If I had the chance I wanted to take it all the way in,” Blackledge said. “I saw Dom coming around and thought a 3 would definitely be better than a 2.”
Lake answered, finding junior Alex Belinsky (15 points) for a quick backdoor layup to tie the score.
Hoover had the inbound play set on Lake’s side of the court with 9.7 seconds to go.
“The play was to maybe get Dom a shot, but they covered him real well,” Blackledge said of the final play, in which Iero inbounded him the ball and tried to run off a screen for an open shot. “Then I tried to go baseline but that was cut off, too.”
With his back to the basket and the clock winding down, Blackledge found space in the lane, dribbled to his left and with his right hand got a highly contested shot to fall with 3.8 on the clock.
“My teammates know I can make those shots, and that’s super important down the stretch,” Blackledge said. “I knew if I could get into the paint I could try to do something. Our coaches drew up a great play.”
Lake threw a pass to midcourt to junior Mitchell Spotleson (13 points), who quickly threw it up court but it was intercepted by Iero as time expired.
Hoover (22-4) and Lake (21-4) entered the game with 21 wins apiece and had tied the season series 1-1.
With 10 seconds left Saturday night, these two were still tied.
The Blue Streaks came away with the Federal League title during the regular season. Iero says he prefers the district.
“They kinda took the league from us,” he said. “I’d much rather take this over that.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.