MICHIGAN CITY | The ball was in the air for what seemed like forever. Time stood still on Saturday night inside the packed Wolves' Den in Michigan City.
Valparaiso's Adam Butterfield shot a 3 while falling out of bounds. Top-ranked Munster led by two as the scoreboard rocketed toward zeros.
A dream season, a dream run, hung in the balance.
"My heart stopped and skipped a few beats, more than one or two," Munster senior Brian Stolarz said.
"It was a 50-50 ball," classmate Joe Crisman said.
"I was thinking, 'Terrible shot,' but Butter was hitting all day," Ricky Carbajal said.
"I did not want it to end this way," Munster coach Mike Hackett said. "And you can fill in the blank why."
Munster had a four-point lead and with 4.7 seconds left Crisman fouled Butterfield. Inexplicably the official called an intentional foul, meaning Valpo would get two free throws and the ball.
It was the worst call I've ever seen. Yes, it was a foul. Intentional? Not a chance.
But when Butterfield's ball rimmed out and the rebound follow missed, Class 4A No. 1 Munster won 40-38. The 'Stangs raised their record to 25-0.
And unbelievably I was sitting by more critics than people amazed by this team.
No, Munster has not played on ESPN. No, the roster does not have a player averaging 30 with three hours of highlight film at the ready. Who cares, I say.
Munster will play Kokomo next Saturday in the semistate, one win away from Conseco Fieldhouse.
In five postseason games, the Mustangs, who beat people by an average of 25 points in the regular season, have written a different story.
A one-point overtime win over Lake Central. A three-point win over E.C. Central. A four-point win over South Bend Riley. And a two-point win over Valpo, a squad the Mustangs hammered 48-25 in January.
Is this the worst No. 1 team in the history of Indiana high school basketball, like some believe?
"Hey, it doesn't matter how many you win by," Hackett said. "It's all about surviving and moving on and that's what we did tonight. We would like for our offense to run a little smoother and we'd like to hit some more shots. But the way we're playing defense I believe we can play with anybody.
"And we have a great senior class that just finds ways to win."
Stolarz, Crisman and Carbajal are the first three Munster players to win two regional titles in their career. Do they play perfect, high-flying basketball that makes fans go "WOW" all the time?
No. Do they hit enough free throws in the fourth quarter to allow their coach to grow his hair back? No.
But they do enough to find a way to win. And despite the ESPN-like neon lights that aren't on this team, the roster is loaded with great basketball players.
Whether the person in Row 13 thinks so or not.
"The seniors wanted this real bad and we want to get to state," Carbajal said.
"We have No. 1 next to our name and every team we play now has No. 2 next to their's," Crisman said. "We have the biggest targets on our back. But coach trusts us seniors and we have a lot of desire to keep this going and that's what we did tonight."
"The target on our back is Gi-normous," Stolarz said. "But our defensive patience is helping us through these tough games. We held a very good team to one point in the third quarter. And that's pretty good."
And despite what the new agers of Hoosiers hoopsters think, this team is not pretty good. They are very good. Whether it's exciting to watch or not.
I'm old enough to appreciate the style. It's better than all the bells and whistles floating around a lot of gyms in Indiana these days.
"We've played five teams in the postseason that we already played," Hackett said. "And we're 5-0. That is all that matters."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.