CANTON — There was nothing beautiful about the way Friday's Division I regional championship game between GlenOak and Eastlake North was played, or officiated. It was consistently inconsistent in flow, in scoring, in foul calls.
The one constant at the Civic Center was GlenOak's defense. That was just enough for the Golden Eagles.
Clinging to a two-point lead in the final 90 seconds of regulation, Golden Eagles senior Jade Abdulla forced Rangers star Destiny Leo into a travel and junior Addison Mucci knocked a ball off the leg of North sophomore guard Abby Carter. That allowed GlenOak to run down the clock and, with the aid of three Mucci free throws, capture a 46-41 victory that launched the Eagles into the state tournament for the first time since 1990.
"There wasn't much time left and I wasn't going to let that be the end of our season," Mucci said of risking a foul on her forced turnover by Carter. "So I went for that. It went our way to close it out."
GlenOak's school-record 21st consecutive win sends the 23-2 Eagles into next Friday's 6 p.m. state semifinal at the Schottenstein Center.
Abdulla keyed a GlenOak defense that held North 24 points under its season average. She limited Leo, a 30-point scorer, to just eight points on 4 of 9 floor shooting. Leo was held to two points in the second half and the Rangers did not score for the final 5:07 of the game after they got their only two leads between the 5:40 and 5:08 marks.
"One of our goals was to hold them under 50 points," said North coach Paul Force after his team finished the season 25-2. "We saw they were 2-2 on the year scoring under 50. We kept them under 50, but our offense came up a little short."
GlenOak's depth also proved decisive. While Carter easily led everyone with 19 points, including an 8-for-8 effort at the line, nobody else was in double figures for Eastlake North. The Golden Eagles had some key moments from Erica Warren, who led the way with 13 points, 11 in the first half. Alexis Lemire's 3-pointer to start the second quarter gave GlenOak a 15-8 lead — the biggest for either team in the game.
But what makes Smith and GlenOak so good is they don't sweat the small stuff. When Mucci missed the second of two foul shots with a 44-41 lead and 12.5 seconds left, Smith yanked down the rebound and forced North to foul. Game over.
"Honestly, I didn't know if we could [win]," GlenOak coach Paul Wackerly said. "I told Brett [Wackerly, GlenOak's offensive coach] I thought we could stall. I thought we could run it out with 1:44 left, I really did. We weren't making our layups or our foul shots, but that rebound Hayley got was huge.
"We found a way to win."