ALLIANCE - Steve Arnold's basketball coaching career was on the ropes Saturday night, but his Warren G. Harding Raiders found a way to keep it alive.
It wasn't easy.
For a team that wasn't supposed to be much more than a speed bump on the Raiders' road to the regional tournament at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center, Green showed guts, moxie and perhaps a surprising amount of skill in a Division I district final at Alliance High School.
Along the way, the Bulldogs earned the Raiders' respect before Rashid Gaston's buzzer-beater gave Harding a 71-69 overtime victory inside Harry Fails Gymnasium.
"Arthur Cook," Gaston said in minimalist fashion, describing the final frantic moments after Green's Dan Fanelly scored on an offensive rebound to tie the game at 69 with 8 seconds to play.
Cook, who started overtime with a key 3-pointer to give Harding a 65-62 lead, finished the extra period - and Green - on the run with the biggest assist of his life.
There was no timeout. This finish - if it was to be fantastic - was going to be done the Harding way.
The clock was still moving as the Raiders inbounded the ball, ran the floor and won the game when Cook fed Gaston for a long layup with less than a second to play.
"Sometimes, it's just about heart and determination," Arnold said. "We had the ball last and we were able to score."
Cook and Gaston almost teamed up to win the game for Harding in regulation. The former - who had to fight the Ohio High School Athletic Association in court just for the right to wear the Raiders' colors - launched a 3-pointer from the left wing as the final seconds disappeared.
"I thought it was a good shot," Cook said. "I thought it was going to go in. It felt good."
But the shot bounced off the rim and into the hands of Gaston, who hurriedly tossed up a prayer that apparently beat the buzzer and would have counted, had it dropped. None of the officials waved it off, anyway. But his put-back bounced tantalizingly off the right side of the rim before falling away and the game went into overtime.
A few minutes later, Cook and Gaston again had their chance in the moment. This time they made the most of it.
Gaston celebrated the successful second chance to be the hero by screaming, immediately shedding his jersey - soccer style - and raising his arms in triumph.
"I did think that shot (at the end of regulation) was going in," Gaston said. "In overtime, I wanted to have an opportunity to get it back. It feels really good. We've been here the last two years. It finally feels good to get the gold."
Few expected the Raiders would be pushed so hard to get it.
A few days ago, a fellow sportswriter from another publication liked Harding's district championship chances so much that on the eve of a district semifinal between Green and North Canton Hoover, he described the winner of that game as "roadkill" for the Raiders.
The Bulldogs beat the Vikings, 62-44, for the right to stand on the road between Harding and the regional at CSU.
"After Thursday, I wasn't sure we could play any better than we did Thursday, but we did," Green coach Mark Kinsley said.
The Bulldogs showed early against Harding that they were anything but dead in the road.
They brought the emotion that was missing from Harding's previous two tournament games at Alliance and forced the Raiders to play with a passion they hadn't shown for an extended period in a 60-30 win over Boardman or a 63-44 victory over Youngstown East.
Almost from the start, it was apparent Harding had finally met its match - or something close to it - in this tournament.
"Green played well, but I think we showed the heart of a champion by being able to withstand some of the runs that they had," Arnold said.
The Raiders (20-3) had reached the district final each of the last two years, but saw both seasons end there. They didn't want that to happen for the third time in a row, especially with this being Arnold's final season as Harding's basketball coach.
"We knew the other team was going to play hard," Cook said. "They never gave up and we just kept fighting, too. We played hard and we were able to win."
Arnold said he thought the Raiders would be able to push the ball on the Bulldogs, create a few scoring runs and eventually build a lead. But other than a 44-37 edge - which quickly evaporated - halfway through the third quarter, Green had an answer for everything Harding did.
"They fought hard the whole game," Gaston said. "I give them a lot of credit."
The Raiders will play Mentor in a regional final at 6:15 on Wednesday night, while Green's uniforms soon will go into storage until next season.
But you can't convince Kinsley the Bulldogs lost. He said Green did everything but beat the Raiders.
"Like I told the kids after the game, we didn't lose the game to Warren," Kinsley said. "Harding just won it. They had one more play at the end."