Canton had erased the five-point deficit to tie the game, and Paige Aresco had the ball with 18 seconds remaining because, well, she had scored Canton’s previous 10 points, so who would you want with the ball with the game on the line?
But this wasn’t teammate Rachel Winters’ first rodeo.
“I knew Paige was going to drive because she was making her lay-ups and getting past them,” Winters said. “But I also knew they were going to collapse, so I had to be ready to shoot it if she passed it out.”
Aresco worked the clock down to single digits and made her move to the basket.
“I was looking for any openings to see if I could get to the rim, but I knew they were going to be packed in the lane,” she said. “So I was looking for Rachel, because I was hoping she would be open on the perimeter.”
Winters was open to receive a pass, but there was no way she could get off a shot.
“I wasn’t open right away,” she said, “but Taylor (Hunley) was kind of like running toward me, so I came off her screen and I was feeling good, so I shot it.”
Winters felt good as the ball left her hand, but Aresco wasn’t taking any chances and put herself in position for a possible offensive rebound.
“No, I didn’t know it was good,” Aresco said. “But I was right under the rim when it went in, so it was pretty exciting.”
Winters’ 14-foot jumper swished through the net with 3 seconds left Friday to give Canton a 31-29 victory over Plymouth.
The victory gives Canton (9-3, 6-0) a solid lead in the KLAA’s South Division as the Chiefs handed much-improved Plymouth (10-3, 5-2) another heartbreaking loss.
“This is the second game now where we’ve had leads in the fourth quarter against Canton and we haven’t been able to finish, and that’s the next step for our group, for sure,” said first-year varsity coach Nick Brandon. “We played this game like it’s important because it is important. It’s the most important game on our schedule. I thought that our intensity and heart reflected that. We just need to finish against this team.”
That is easier said than done, because no matter how poorly Canton plays in the first quarter — 1-for-7 shooting with nine turnovers — the Chiefs find a way to make your life miserable at some point.
That came in the fourth quarter after Plymouth had taken a 29-24 lead with 5:22 left. The Wildcats finished the game with seven consecutive turnovers.
“We have great kids, great competitors, and they just worked their butts off,” Canton coach Brian Samulski said. “We didn’t guard well in the first half. In the second half, we got back to how we guard and made them shoot some shots from the perimeter, and we were able to rebound and go from there.”
Aresco led Canton with 17 points, and Winters added 10. Kylie Robb’s six points topped Plymouth.
Plymouth lost to Canton, 31-28, earlier this season, and Brandon knows you don’t score many points against the Chiefs’ tenacious defense.
“I think their pressure is fantastic,” Brandon said. “I think Canton has great athletes. Without question, that gets to you physically and gets to you mentally. I feel like out of the 32 minutes of the game, we did everything the right way and gave ourselves a chance to win, and the last 2 minutes things didn’t go our way, and Canton gets a lot of credit for that.”