Naomi Kolodny, playing like a female Larry Bird, did it all for Maccabi Ashdod last night as the home team beat Elitzur Ramle in overtime, 70-66, to win its first league title.
The game was a nerve-wracking affair with 13 lead changes and nine even-scores. But sloppy play by Ramle down the stretch allowed Ashdod to add to its trophy case, which already contains this year's State Cup.
Kolodny, who finished with 17 points and four rebounds, seemed to pull aces from her sleeve every time Ashdod needed a big break. Twice she hit nearly impossible threes to halt Ramle's momentum. The first came from an NBA distance, while the second hit the rim, bounced as high as the top of the backboard, then fell down through the hoop.
But she saved her best for last. With 29.5 seconds remaining in overtime and Ashdod leading 65-64, the team's star, Plenette Pierson, made an errant inbound pass. Le'Coe Willingham seemed to get a hold of the ball, but had it stripped and Kolodny came up with possession. She was fouled with 20.2 seconds left and converted both free throws.
After Amber Harris made two free throws with 9.9 seconds left, Kolodny drew another foul. She made the first but missed the second, but ran in and got the rebound, drawing another foul. This time she made both shots from the charity stripe to seal the victory and claim MVP honors.
For coach Edney Dagan, the victory was his first championship in 12 years, but not his first with Kolodny. The two paired up 16 years ago when Kiryat Sharet Holon won the International High School Championship.
"I'm not used to being happy," said Kolodny after the game. "It will take me some more time to digest it. I didn't think about things. Today, everything ran right."
Everything certainly went Ashdod's way in the early going, as guards Ashley Shields and Tamera Young propelled the hosts to a 21-11 lead. However, Ramle's Alana Beard made 12 trips to the free-throw line in the first half and together with Willingham evened the score at 33 by halftime.
Ramle took a slight lead in the third quarter before a 7-0 run put Ashdod back on top. The lead switched back and forth early in the final period as Beard gave Ramle its biggest lead at 53-48 with a field goal at the 6:38 mark. Pierson chipped away at Ramle's lead with a driving lay-up and a backdoor basket, and Kolodny completed the comeback at 55-all, causing Michal Epstein to foul out.
Both teams got nervous in the final three minutes of regulation, making needless turnovers and letting the shot clock run down, leaving the game tied at 58 when time expired.
Ashdod looked the cooler team in overtime, though, setting the stage for Kolodny's heroics.
"It was a great game, and a wonderful conclusion to the final playoff series," said Dagan. "There were several points during the game where I thought we had put it away, and then we got a slap in the face and they came back. When Brahsheedah Eloheim grabbed an offensive rebound I knew it was ours because we wanted it more."
Ramle coach Adan Inbar said after the game: "The closer you get, the more it hurts. The game could have gone either way, but Ashdod deserved the title."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now