BOURBONNAIS - One spinning basketball was what separated the Minooka Indians' girls basketball team from either winning or losing its regional semifinal game against Normal West Wednesday.
Fortunately for the Indians, that spinning ball didn't fall in the cylinder for Normal West, as a missed layup with 1.2 seconds left in overtime gave Minooka a 50-49 overtime victory over the Wildcats. The Indians will now play for their third straight regional title Thursday night.
"Obviously I'm a little prejudice, but it would have been a shame if we had lost that basketball game," Minooka coach Ray Liberatore said. "We basically came out here and led the entire night. As a four seed playing a one seed, our girls just went out there and played tonight. There was no fear."
All the chaos of the finish to the game started with about three minutes to go in regulation, with the Indians holding a comfortable 40-32 lead. That's when the Wildcats would turn it on, though, going on an 8-0 run to tie the game with 40 seconds left to play. After a couple free throws, one from junior Erin Heide and one from senior Sydney Lilly, put Minooka up 42-40, Normal responded, as sophomore Keely Theobald dribbled all the way down the court and laid it in as time expired to send it to overtime.
"We knew we had to keep our composure after she (Theobald) made that," Heide said. "I'm glad we made our free throws, because those ended up being big shots down the stretch."
Despite all the momentum in the corner of the Wildcats, it was the Indians who came out strong to start overtime. Heide scored four quick points to give Minooka the 46-42 advantage with 2:29 left in the game.
"I knew that somebody had to step up and make shots to win the game, so I took it upon myself and it all worked out," Heide said.
Normal refused to go away, though, as it matched the Indians in points until it was 50-46. There Theobald once again stepped up, knocking down a three pointer to make it a one point game with under a minute to go.
With 11.5 seconds, the score remained 50-49, with Lilly coming up to the free throw line for Minooka but Lilly's two free throws rimmed out, giving normal one last chance to win the game.
As the Wildcats ran down the court, the lane opened up again. Attacking the rim, the Normal player put up the shot. The ball hit every part of the rim before spinning out at the end. Sophomore Kelly Carnagio grabbed the board and called timeout with 1.2 seconds left. The Indians then inbounded the ball and time ran out as Minooka held on for the one-point upset win over Normal.
"We were so lucky that that shot rimmed out for us," senior Larissa McClemen said, who led the Indians with 14 points on the night. "It was like my life was just spinning all around me. Kelly had that big rebound for us, too, which helped a lot."
The Indians came out strong in the first quarter against Normal, as they were able to beat the Wildcats' press numerous times, ultimately leading into baskets for Minooka. When it was all over, the Indians had seized a 15-8 lead over Normal heading into the second quarter.
That's where it all fell apart, however, for the Indians. All the sudden, the press was getting to Minooka, which led them to commit nine turnovers in the second quarter. Seizing the moment, the Wildcats outscored the Indians 14-6 to take a one point, 22-21 lead into the locker room before the Indians came back out in the third quarter, re-gaining a three point advantage heading into the final frame.
Through all the madness of Wednesday's game, Minooka does advance to the regional final, something they have done the last two years. The Indians are looking to have déjà vu all over again, as a win Thursday would give Minooka their third straight regional crown. This after not winning a regional since 1980 before 2011.
An emotional let down might be eminent, but the lady Indians are going to have to come back focused to three-peat as regional champions.
"We just need to think positively and come out with a bunch of energy like we did in tonight's game," McClemen said.
"When we have four seniors like we do, we know that we came here to win two games, not one," Liberatore added. "So our girls will be ready to play tomorrow."