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by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Akron -- Twinsburg head girls basketball coach Julie Solis certainly doesn't feel guilty about her team's success in recent years.
But she just doesn't feel quite right when her team celebrates in front of Hudson head coach Dennis Lawler.
"I love Dennis," Solis said. "He's a great coach and a great man."
Unfortunately for Lawler, Solis broke his heart again.
The top-seeded Lady Tigers captured their fifth straight Division I district title with a tense 55-52 victory over the second-seeded Lady Explorers March 2 at Ellet High School in Akron.
Twinsburg (26-0), which has had Hudson's number in recent years, beat the Lady Explorers for the third time this season.
The other two games were decided by halftime. Round three certainly wasn't.
An inspired Hudson team gave the defending two-time state champs all they could handle for most of the way.
In fact, an upset seemed inevitable until the final eight minutes.
How vulnerable did the Lady Tigers look?
The Lady Explorers, thanks to their full-court press and fearless attitude, opened the game with a 16-2 lead. Hudson had a knack for taking Twinsburg's blows to the chin and then punching back with just as much effectiveness.
When the Lady Tigers trimmed the Lady Explorers' lead to a deuce (24-22), Hudson responded with a 10-0 run.
"We knew we needed to get off to a good start," Lawler said.
"Our girls believed they could compete and I'm proud of them."
For awhile, the Lady Explorers did something that seemed almost impossible: They kept all-state senior guard Ashley Morrissette in check.
Morrissette picked up three fouls and was not much of a factor in the first half, thanks to Hudson's punishing defense. If Morrissette had the ball, she was usually surrounded by two or sometimes, three defenders for much of the game.
"I may be biased since she's in our league, but I think Ashley is the best player in the state," Lawler said. "I think she should win Miss Basketball."
But the talented and fiercely competitive Morrissette delivered when her team needed her most.
The Purdue University (Ind.) recruit scored 13 of her game-high 17 points in the second half, including eight in the final eight minutes. Her pull-up jumper tied the game at 41 with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game. Moments later, Baleigh Reid, a junior guard, stole the ball and gave the Lady Tigers their first lead of the afternoon (43-41) with an uncontested layup.
It got worse for the Lady Explorers (20-6).
Morrissette and Reid each had steals and buckets on the next two possessions to increase Twinsburg's advantage to six (47-41). Those two baskets concluded a 10-0 run. In fact, other than a three-pointer by senior forward Hannah Boesinger early in the fourth quarter, the Lady Tigers put together an 18-3 spurt that started with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter.
"I think I was panicking more than them to be honest," Solis said. "I think our kids handled the situation very well."
Since the momentum made a 180-degree turn, it was easy to think the game was over.
Hudson managed to continue scratching and clawing and got its deficit to within two (54-52) when senior point guard Kelly Gough drained a difficult three-pointer in traffic.
While that was good news for the Lady Explorers, the bad news was this: There were only 3.3 seconds left and Hudson had no time-outs left.
Forced to foul, the Lady Explorers sent senior forward Mercedes Hobbs to the free throw line. Hobbs made 1-of-2 shots, but after the rebound, Hudson senior guard Brynne Drohan's heave from halfcourt took place after the buzzer.
"I knew we were going to have a battle on our hands," Solis said. "I'm proud of my kids for fighting back when things weren't going well."
Things went well for Boesinger from beginning to end.
Boesinger, a Youngstown State University recruit, did just about everything for the Lady Explorers in her final high school game. She finished with a game-high 25 points and was a perfect 9-for-9 at the foul line. She also finished with nine rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.
Boesinger, who is one of six Hudson female basketball players to score more than 1,000 career points, made a strong case for being one of the best players in school history.
"Hannah is right up there," Lawler said. "The fact that she scored 1,000 points in a little more than three years is a tremendous accomplishment. We're going to miss her physical presence and she got a lot of big baskets just like Jess [2011 Hudson graduate and all-time leading scorer Jessica Monsman] did. Hannah is a great teammate and I hope her work ethic is passed on to the other kids."
Senior forward Char-dell Dunnigan, a George Mason University (Va.) recruit, had 13 points and nine rebounds for Twinsburg and Reid had 12 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Morrissette had three steals and three blocks.
Drohan knocked down a trio of three-pointers on her way to nine points for the Lady Explorers. Junior guard Jackie Ulmer added eight points for Hudson.
Gough, Drohan and senior forward Allison Zullo also concluded their high school basketball careers at Ellet.
"Kelly was our point guard by default," Lawler said. "She worked hard to take on the role and did a tremendous job leading our team. She is as tough as nails.
"Brynne deserves a ton of credit. She came back from injuries and was still with us every day. She has shown some great toughness.
"Allison was a tremendous asset to our program. She brings a calming influence and great leadership to our team."