Girls Varsity Basketball · North’s dream season comes to an end in regional final

Sometimes even the best game plan isn’t enough to beat a great team.

North’s girls’ basketball team found that out in Friday’s Division I regional championship game at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.

Despite holding the GlenOak Eagles to their second second-lowest output of the year and playing them closer than anyone other Norwalk regional finalist Canton McKinley, the Rangers saw their dream season come to an end with a 46-41 loss.

“That’s a heck of a basketball team,” North coach Paul Force said of GlenOak. “We haven’t prepared for a team like them all year. Big fast, deep, they have all the pieces you need to make a high school basketball team. They’ve got kids coming off their bench who would be all conference players in our league without a doubt. Just tons of respect for Coach (Paul) Wackerly and that team. I wish them well next week (in the state Final Four).”

North trailed 12-7 then suffered a major blow when starting point guard Taylor Valaitis left the game with a knee injury.

With Valaitis sidelined, Destiny Leo shifted her focus to helping set up the offense rather than finishing.

Leo finished with just eight points, well under her average of nearly 30 points per game.

Even with the odds stacked against them the Rangers pulled to within 25-22 at halftime and trailed 36-35 heading into the fourth quarter.

Avril Drew, who finished with six points, scored on a putback with 5 minutes left to give the Rangers their first lead, 39-38.

The Eagles closed the game on an 8-2 run.

“I couldn’t be more proud of what this group has done,” Force said. “They’ve taken me along for a ride like I’ve never experienced as a coach. They have made memories that they, and a lot of community members, will talk about forever. What happened with this team this year was more than about basketball; it was about family, relationships, life lessons… just incredible, I’m blessed to have been a part of it.”

Abby Carter led the Rangers with 19 points and despite GlenOak’s best efforts to shut down Carter and Leo, the dynamic duo finished with 27 of North’s 41 points.

GlenOak entered the game 22-0 when scoring over 50 points and 2-2 when held under that mark.

The Rangers hit their goal of keeping the Eagles’ offense in check but came up short on the offensive end.

“What a group of kids and what an experience this has been,” Force said. “It’s hard to put into words. They play hard, and love each other. What else can you ask for as a coach?”

North closed out the year with a 25-2 record.

Canton GlenOak 46, North 41

North (25-2): C. Hamilton 1, Carter 19, M. Hamilton 3, Leo 8, Drew 6, Valaitis 4

GlenOak (25-2): Mucci 7, Lemire 3, Abdulla 8, Hall 4, Green 6, Warren 15, Smith 3

North 7 15 13 6 — 41
GlenOak 12 13 11 10 — 46