We couldn't ask for a more fitting finale to such an amazing finals series. Tied at 33 at the break, tied at 58 at the end of regulation, nerve wrecking overtime decided by one offensive rebound by Kolodny who then made two huge free throws to make it 70 – 66 with 4.9 secs left, and set off the yellow celebrations.
Maccabi Ashdod 70 – Elizur Ramla 66 (OT)
Tied at 2 games apiece, with a total score of 243 -241, and after two halves that also ended tied, game 5 went to overtime to cap off this terrific finals. Ashdod led by 10 early in the 2nd quarter but Ramla came back to tie it at 33 at the half. In the 2nd half Tanisha Wright took control and Ramla was able to make things very hard for Pierson, but Shields and Kolodny stepped up in the 2nd half to keep Ashdod in it. In a very close game with 13 lead changes and 14 ties, Ashdod led 46 – 43 after three thanks to Tamera Young's drive at the buzzer.
Ramla went up 53 – 48 midway through the 4th, a lead that began to feel significant since the defenses were so tough. Ashdod managed to get the lead back with only 48 seconds to go as Shields made two from the line, 57 – 56, as thoughts of the missed free throw in game 3 never crossed her mind. As expected, Wright ran all the way to the other end to give Ramla the lead back, but as we saw happen twice before, Young stole Selwyn's inbound pass and Wright stopped her with an intentional foul with 13 seconds to go. Young made one of the two to tie it, and Shields' late drive couldn't win it for Ashdod at the buzzer. 58 all, overtime.
Despite Wright's incredible efforts, Ashdod was able to maintain a very slim lead through out the OT. The 1,200 fans who packed the arena went through very gut wrenching moments until Ramla fouled Nomi Kolodny with 8.7 seconds to go, with Ashdod up 67 – 66. She made the first, missed the seconds but somehow got her own rebound and drew another foul with 4.9 on the clock. She calmly made both and handed Ashdod an amazing first Championship to go with their first Israeli Cup. That was the play of the season, and Kolodny also won the game's MVP title.
"I think this is a huge accomplishment. Ramla is an incredible team. Tanisha and LeCoe alone cost as much as all our foreigners plus two Israelis", said Edne Dagan at the end. "Late in the game there was some lack of concentration, after five tough games players were tired and everyone made mental mistakes. I think this was a huge game, high level, this whole series and especially the way it ended is a great honor for women's basketball. There were a few plays where I thought we might lose, but Brasheeda had this one offensive rebound when I said to myself that's it, we want it more, we will win".
"We missed too many free throws in the final 3 minutes of regulation, at the end it comes down to the little things, especially in an overtime game. That was our downfall, little things, rebounding after a free throw", said Adan Inbar. "I want to congratulate Ashdod for a great season and a good series, I think the series did well for Ashdod and the league. I'm proud of the last two months, we went through a hard series against Ramat Hasharon, also without home court advantage. We were an inch away from the championship, the closer it is the more disappointing it feels. It's too soon and too painful to think about the future".
Both teams started out in aggressive man-to-man defense, as suddenly Ashdod managed to get fast break points. Young and Shields scored in transition to make it 4 – 0, before Ramla scored six in a row to take the lead. Ramla's problem was that they only added three more points in the quarter. Shields from mid range got Ashdod's first points in the set game, and then Ashdod started to go inside. Young added two more to make it 12 – 6, while Ramla just didn't play inside. Pierson threw it away instead of starting a fast break and added a silly foul on Beard, who made one to make it 7 – 12. But in the final minute the momentum stayed on Ashdod's side with a great pass from Elohim to Pierson who was doubled but got the ball in position to score, and with Kolodny's buzzer beating long range three. 17 – 9 Ashdod.
The 2nd quarter was a completely different story, and belong mostly to Alana Beard. Young kept up her hot start and made it 21 – 11, before Beard led Ramla back. Beard got to the line 12 times in the first half, made 9 and scored 11 of her 13 in the first half. Ashdod, who wasn't aggressive enough and settled too much for shots outside the paint, got to the line just 6 times in the half. Ashdod had a very tough time going inside to Plenette Pierson, who was even struggling to get herself to enter the paint and fight for position. Young scored again to make it 27 – 19, and then came Ramla's 8 – 0 run. Ramla began to attack the basket, with points from Willingham, Beard and Epstein who tied it at 27 with 3:40 left. Ramla added just free throws till halftime, and on the other end Pierson's put back and two blocks from Oren and Denson kept it tied at 33 at the half.
Dagan started the 3rd with his leading scored, Young who had 12, benched with three fouls. Ashdod couldn't find a way to get the ball to Pierson who was constantly doubled so hard it was even tough to pass out of the double, and their offense looked a little improvised. On the other end Wright began to take over and penetrated time and time again to get Ashdod's defense moving and recovering. She put her team up 37 – 35, and Willingham found Harris to make it 41 – 37, with 5:30 to go in the 3rd. Ramla's first threes of the game didn't fall, and Kolodny hit a three that bounced way up before dropping in, 42 – 41 Ashdod. Harris scored her 6th point to cut the local lead to one, but Young drove all the way to the rim to make it 46 – 43 after three.
Harris continued her big night with a basket and two free throws, 47 – 46 Ramla. Wright kept getting to the rim without anyone being able to stop her, while Ashdod pretty much played east-west and had too many turnovers. Ramla shut Pierson down, and when she passed it to her teammates they didn't hit. Beard made a tough shot to make it 53 – 48, timeout Ashdod with 6:30 to go. Ashdod came back and met a Ramla zone, which caused an airball. Pierson took Willingham to the rim for her first basket of the 2nd half, but soon made her 4tf foul. Pierson scored again and Kolodny hit a drive to tie it at 55 with three minutes to play.
Everyone in the gym got to their feet for the final minutes, and you could really feel the tension. Willingham made one free throw, Selwyn missed two from the line and Shields made two to make it 57 - 56. Wright had another huge drive to put Ramla up 58 – 57 with 48 seconds to go, and on the other end Shields missed a tough shot. Dagan called timeout with 15 seconds left, and Young was able to tip and steal Selwyn's pass to Wright, who stopped her with an intentional foul with 13 seconds to go. Young made the second free throw to tie it, and in their chance to win Shields missed a tough drive, 58 – 58. Overtime.
Tanisha Wright scored six of Ramla's 8 points in OT and really did everything humanly possible for Ramla to win it, but Ashdod just had a little bit more at the end. Pierson got a rare touch and got fouled, she made one to get the lead on her team's side. Kolodny had a big block on Selwyn and Shields drove on Beard to make ti 61 – 58, 3:30 to go. Ashdod struggled to get shots before the final seconds of the shot clock, while on the other end Wright acted like it's layup line in warm up and cut the lead to one. Shileds made a long jumper just before the shot clock buzzer and Wright missed an uncharacteristic layup. Both teams made some mistakes before Harris's put back made it 62 – 65 with 30 seconds left. Wright needed just three seconds to make another layup, and Dagan called timeout up 65 – 64 with 28 seconds to go. Pierson struggled to somehow pass it to Young who struggled big time not to turn it over as she was doubled, but she found Kolodny who was fouled with 20 seconds left. She made both. Harris answered with two free throws, and Ramla fouled Kolodny again. Here came the play of the game, 70 – 66 with 4.9 seconds to go. Ashdod is the Champion.
Nomi Kolodny 17 pts
Ashley Shields 16 pts, 9 rebs
Tamera Young 15 pts, 7 rebs
Plenette Pierson 13 pts, 7 rebs
Britney Denson 9 pts, 6 rebs
Tanisha Wright 22 pts, 8 rebs
Amber Harris 16 pts, 10 rebs
Alana Beard 13 pts, 3 stl
LeCoe Willingham 9 pts, 7 rebs
Michal Epstein 6 pts
Ashdod Wins it All
Photo by: Motti Klinger