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Oklahoma 6A girls basketball championship: Toni Papahronis delivers Edmond North its first state title with buzzer-beating shot in overtime

A layup as time expired was the difference for Edmond North.

By Buck Ringgold I Photo by Carlos Flores

NORMAN - Toni Papahronis, like countless other players, dreamed to have the opportunity she found herself in Saturday afternoon at the Lloyd Noble Center.

Game on the line. Season on the line. State championship on the line. 

And the ball in her hands to take the last shot.

The Edmond North senior's dream came true on Saturday, and it helped bring the Lady Huskies their first gold ball.

Papahronis' layup as time expired in overtime capped a 6A championship game full of momentum swings and big plays. But the biggest play of them all belonged to the daughter of Edmond North coach Pete Papahronis, as the Lady Huskies defeated Bixby, 59-57.

"I've dreamed about it; sometimes I go to bed like my freshman, sophomore, junior year just imagining, like, 'One day, I'll hit a buzzer-beater like that,' and it happened (Saturday)," Toni Papahronis said. "I'm shocked, still shocked."

She didn't even get to process having the ball go through the net as Papahronis was immediately swarmed by her teammates.

"Right after it happened, I just get tackled," she said. "I don't even remember the basket to be honest, I'm just on the floor with all my teammates around me, so it was pretty crazy."

And then the emotions came out. Not just with winning the state title, but other things for Papahronis in her final game with the Lady Huskies.

"It's so special," she said. "I started bawling immediately, not only because we just won the state title, but also it's the last time playing with my sister (Elle Papahronis, a junior) and playing for my dad.

"And playing with the rest of my teammates, which they're my family, too, so it was just a lot of emotions all at once."

Edmond North finished the season 28-1, with its lone defeat at the hands of Classen SAS, which won the 4A title on Saturday.

The Lady Huskies' winning shot came after a time out with six seconds left and Edmond North with possession.

Junior forward Laci Steele inbounded the pass just beyond midcourt and threw it short to Toni Papahronis. After initially seeing the situation unfold in front of her, Papahronis dribbled three times before making a spin move to break free of her defender.

She made one more dribble before getting an open look to the right of the basket. The ball arched high off the glass, bounced a couple of times off the rim and then finally dropped through, igniting pandemonium on the Edmond North side.

"Honestly, the play was for Allison Heathcock to get a curl screen and if that didn't work, a back screen for Laci, but I saw they switched the screen for Laci and I was like, 'I've got to take it,'" Papahronis said.

"So I dribbled down and I went up with it and it was slow motion."

Not only did Papahronis' dream come true, she also had a premonition of how Saturday's game might transpire.

Earlier in the season, the Lady Huskies blew past Bixby, 75-34, in the Lady Spartans' very own tournament. But the Lady Spartans came into Saturday's game having won 21 out of their last 22 games, so Papahronis expected a vastly different outcome.

"I talked to the team (Friday) night and I was like, I know we're used to having a lead, and I feel like we might not have a lead at some point," she said. "No matter if it was a 10-point lead, a 20-point lead, if they have that, we need to keep fighting, like it's never over until the last buzzer and I think we had all that on our minds going into (Saturday)."

Papahronis was right. Bixby, after trailing 23-21 at halftime, opened the second half with an 18-6 run and took a 10-point lead, 39-29, early in the fourth.

But like Papahronis envisioned, the Lady Huskies weren't ready to pack it in.

They came back to make it intriguing, and got within one with 2:44 left, 45-44, on a 3 from Kate Melton. The Lady Huskies then took the lead moments later on Elle Papahronis' layup off a backcourt steal.

Bixby (24-4) eventually came back to tie it up, 48-all, on a pair of free throws from junior guard Gracy Wernli with 42 seconds left. Toni Papahronis had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but wasn't able to convert and Bixby's Meredith Mayes grabbed the rebound, signaling overtime.

Both teams then dueled for the lead in the extra session.

Bixby went up 52-51 before Steele launched a 3 with just under two minutes left. Seconds later, Wernli hit a 3 of her own as the Lady Spartans grabbed the lead right back.

But on the next possession, Melton drained a 3 as Edmond North seized it once more, leading 57-55 with 1:20 left. Mayes hit two foul shots on the next trip down to tie it at 57-all.

That remained the score until Toni Papahronis made the shot she wasn't able to convert at the end of regulation.

"At the end of regulation, she didn't have a clear shot at the rim and we said in the time out (before the start of overtime), 'If you don't have the rim, let's kick out to our shooters,'" Pete Papahronis said. "In overtime, she saw the rim and she got to the rim this time and did the right thing."

While it was the Lady Huskies' first gold ball, it wasn't the first state title for Papahronis, who won his 300th career game as a coach in North's 6A quarterfinal win Thursday. He won back-to-back gold balls as Guthrie's boys coach in the late 2000s.

"I saw my dad get back-to-back state titles when I was a little girl, and I remember seeing all those boys at Guthrie super-happy and I'm like, 'I want that one day,' and that happened (Saturday) and I'm so happy," Toni Papahronis said.

Papahronis, who will play next season at Navy, finished as the Lady Huskies' top scorer with 21 points and she also grabbed seven rebounds. Melton had 13 points and two 3's, Steele 12 points and Elle Papahronis 10.

Steele, North's leading scorer, was one of the Lady Huskies who was able to fight back from the 10-point deficit. Through three quarters, Steele was held to four points.

"We fought hard through adversity as a team," Steele said. "We knew we had to turn up our defense at the end and we did. We needed some big plays and we got them.

"They were double and sometimes triple-teaming me so we needed others to step up and Elle, Toni and Kate Melton did that. I was so proud of Toni on that last shot and proud of everyone for pulling together to get the win."

Wernli led all scorers with 22 points along with three 3's and nine rebounds. She was 8-of-15 from the field and a perfect 3-of-3 from the line.

Mayes had a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds while making 7-of-9 baskets from the field. Alyssa Nielsen, a junior, added 11 points and made all five of her field goals for the Lady Spartans, who finished as the 6A runner-up for the second consecutive season.