LIBERTY - Most Hail Marys come in football, when a team down to its last chance launches up a pass in hopes of a miracle finish.
With the Super Bowl on Sunday, Girard's Craig Randall decided he was going to bring the desperation heave to basketball.
While Randall's toss wasn't a pass, the finish was definitely a miracle.
With Girard trailing by one, the sophomore sensation banked in an off-balance, fade-away 3-pointer from near the baseline as time expired to shock everyone at Liberty High School gymnasium. The shot gave the Indians an improbable 65-63 victory over their cross-town rival.
The Leopards (8-8, 4-4 All-American Conference, National Division) had just retaken the lead on a mid-range, fade-away bank shot by D.J. Hight with 17 seconds left. Girard (11-5, 6-2) dribbled down court before calling a timeout with 6.1 seconds left. The inbounds pass went to Randall, who moved to his right before firing a prayer from a foot behind the 3-point line. With two defenders in his face, he somehow managed to bank the shot in despite a tough angle, and time expired as the ball hit the floor.
"I was just thinking score, and it went in," said Randall of what he was thinking when he pulled up. "It was the greatest moment of my life, so far. We battled as a team, and we showed heart tonight. That's all coach said through halftime was to come out and play with more heart. That's what we did, and we got the win."
Randall was the main reason why. The 6-foot-1 guard scored 23 of his game-high 30 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter, and made 6 of 13 from beyond the arc. The Indians needed it all against a Liberty squad that outrebounded them, 43-22, and received contributions from most of the team. Three players reached double figures in points, led by Asim Pleas' 18, and Hight scored nine, including the clutch bucket late in the fourth with his team down one. The Leopards missed a jump shot with about 25 seconds remaining, and then couldn't connect on three different putback attempts before Hight corralled a rebound and calmly banked in the fadeaway.
That set up Randall, who seems to be at his best against Girard's arch rival. He scored 35 in the Indians' first victory over the Leopards.
"I don't know what it is about Liberty," he said. "The rivalry, and I like big games. I like to show up in big games, and we showed up as a team tonight, so it was great."
Liberty took control early on and led for the entire first half, taking a 33-25 advantage into halftime. The Leopards' Cameron Clark poured in 10 of his 17 and Darrian Underwood netted all of his 10 in the first two quarters as Liberty dominated the boards. Girard, down by as many as 11 in the third quarter, came roaring back. The Indians hit four of their 10 3-pointers in the third (they took 31 total), and Randall scored 11 of their 22 points. Dylan O'Hara, another sophomore, also played a big role as he hit two of his four 3s in the third period. He was the only other Indian in double figures with 14 points.
"None of us made shots in the first half," Girard coach Craig Hannon said. "Craig finally made a few, and it opened up the other guys."
Pleas and Randall started to put on a show midway through the third quarter, with Liberty clinging to its lead. The two, who are friends off the court, jawed back and forth as they made shot after shot. Girard took its first lead on a deep 3 by Randall, and the Indians were up five before a technical foul was called on Jim Standohar. Liberty inched closer when Pleas nailed a 3 from the top of the key to make the score 62-61. The Leopards' John Helms made a steal on the next possession, and Hight made his shot moments later.
That left too much time on the clock for Randall, who scored 41 earlier this year against Jefferson and is averaging just more than 24 points per game.
"We had a bad stretch where we had the lead and lost it," Liberty coach Dan Bubon said. "(Girard) scores. They're going to shoot a million 3s until they start hitting some. Our advantage is inside, and we didn't get the ball inside like we should have. We made some bad decisions with the ball, and it came back to bite us."
The sting can't last long for Liberty, which travels to Brookfield tonight. Girard travels to Pymatuning Valley on Tuesday.