In more ways than one, Western Tech junior Ebonee Dixon is grateful for second chances.
Seconds after she missed a layup that could have put the host Wolverines up by a point with under 10 seconds left on Friday night, she made an 8-foot jump shot with two seconds left, giving the Wolverines (2-0) a pulsating 46-45 victory over Perry Hall (3-1).
Dixon, who finished with 10 points, three steals and three rebounds, made the basket after an inbounds pass from Deja Dennis (10 points, 6 rebounds).
“At first I was giving up because I felt like the game was over, but I was wide open and she (Dennis) is mentally tough and she knows who to look for and I got the wide open shot and I just had to concentrate on making it,” Dixon said.
Getting a chance to take any shot — let alone a game winner is a welcome opportunity for Dixon, who missed all of last season’s run to the Class 1A state championship game with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.
She had surgery in Sept. of 2011 and didn’t start playing basketball again until March of 2012.
Her shot foiled a dramatic comeback by the Gators, who trailed 40-30 with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter.
“The last three and a half minutes we were able to come back and it shows a lot of heart and character that we were able to cut that deficit,” Perry Hall coach Mandy Fischer said. “If that ball goes out we are heroes and if that ball goes in they are heroes.”
Kinross Obiefule scored 10 of her team-high 16 points and MacKenzie Pitillo scored nine of her 14 points during the fourth quarter.
Pitillo (7 rebounds, 3 steals) gave the Gators a 45-44 lead with 23 seconds left after Shawnkea McCallum’s steal and assist.
Western Tech had three missed shot attempts and Perry Hall had a pair of missed free throws before Dixon’s game winner.
“She nailed the shot,” Western Tech coach Nolan Roe said. “That’s all I can say.”
For a while, the Wolverines weren’t nailing any shots.
They started the first quarter by missing their first 16 shots from the floor, but finally got on board on a three-point play by Dennis (10 points, 6 rebounds) with 48 seconds left in the quarter.
Sydney Clopton (15 points, 8 steals) added another basket and the Wolverines only trailed 6-5 after one quarter.
The game was tied 14-14 at the half, before the Wolverine offense started to match the defense.
The defense forced 31 of Perry Hall’s 36 turnovers in the first three quarters and they took a 32-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We are a defensive team, no matter how great the offense is going, or how bad the offense is going, we stick on defense and that’s what helps us win games,” Dixon said.
Clopton and Autumn Tapley (6 steals, 6 rebounds) scored five points each in the third quarter and Dixon and Daija Coles scored four each during the period.
“I know we can shoot on this team and we went on a good stretch in the third period,” Roe said.
Foul trouble to Dixon and Coles limited their defensive aggressiveness late in the game, but the Wolverines got solid minutes off the bench from senior guard Christina Spliedt (4 rebounds), freshman guard Ashley Gourdine (2 points) and sophomore forward Kaitlin Page (2 rebounds, 1 assist).
Gourdine made a twisting layup with 2:58 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Wolverines a 44-42 lead before a free throw by Pitillo cut it to 44-43 with 40 seconds left.
Perry Hall’s press is what vaulted them back into the game, thanks to tenacious defense from Leah Green (9 rebounds, 5 steals), McCallum (5 steals), Zoey Martin and Renee Whiting (4 steals each).
In the end, it wasn’t enough to overcome the numerous turnovers and a 10-for-28 shooting night from the foul line.
“We missed two-point attempts, we missed free throws and the turnovers early in the game came back to haunt us in the end,” Fischer said.
But, nothing haunted them like Dixon’s game-winning shot.
“I was like, the loss is on me at this point (after missing the layup), but I can’t give up on my team so I have to stay with it and stay strong,” Dixon said.