SOUTH HOLLAND | This moment nearly didn't arrive.
In truth, it probably shouldn't have. While a four-point deficit is certainly not insurmountable for a basketball squad, when only 6.7 seconds remain and that team has no more timeouts to call, the outlook is definitely bleak.
That was the situation facing Seton Academy in its opening Class 2A playoff game against Chicago University High. The Sting had already squandered a nine-point lead in regulation, and as the clock neared zero in overtime, all hope appeared lost.
"I was just thinking, 'Wow, all of this work that we've done and all this time that we've invested, the schedule that we played to get us ready for the playoffs, and here we are going down in the first round,'" Seton coach Brandon Thomas said. "The game was over. Even if we dribble up and make a shot, they don't even have to pass it in."
Senior guard Jordan Foster, forced to the bench by a fifth foul, didn't want to believe the worst, however.
"I'm thinking: We've got to find a way to pull this off, even though it looks impossible," he said. "I just have to trust my teammates to pull us through."
And that's what Kamal Shasi managed to do. Before time elapsed, the junior guard drew a foul while shooting a 3-pointer. When the shot fell, Shasi completed the improbable four-point play at the line.
"I know it was the playoffs, but I just tried to keep my mind off that and focus like it was a regular free throw," Shasi said.
It was, in reality, the biggest one of the season as it forced a second extra session. There, the Sting finally asserted themselves and collected a 72-64 victory that served as the springboard for what's unfolded since then.
Four more playoff wins followed, and now Seton is Peoria-bound, in search of the school's second state title in four years. The Sting meet Breese Central in tonight's second semifinal game.
Seton remains the favorite to rule over Class 2A, but Foster said the first-round close call hasn't been forgotten.
"I think it humbled us as a team," he said. "It let us know we have to come out and outplay our opponents every time.
"We felt off that night (against University), like we weren't there. We just had some nerves that got us off to a bad start, which led us to that ending."
Shasi thought Seton players were ready, but that they might have forgotten the Maroons would be, too.
"In the playoffs, everybody comes to play -- it doesn't matter who their opponent is," he said. "And they were on their home court, (so) they didn't want to lose."
Shasi's game-saving play occurred despite the best efforts of University's defense to stay clear of everyone in a Sting uniform. The man guarding Shasi was backpedaling, but couldn't avoid making contact.
"I just tried to find a body as best that I could, get the 3 and hopefully have it go in," Shasi said. "I tried to get to him before he moved out of the way, and luckily I did it."
Thomas couldn't quite believe what he saw.
"I'm not one to say that God favors any team over another," Thomas said, "but it definitely felt like there was something mysterious (going on). It was a great play by Kamal to recognize, 'OK, here's an opportunity for me to dribble at this guy,' but I don't even know why that kid was near him.
"Their whole team could have been in the locker room. They didn't have to be on the court."
Seton still is, though, and now Thomas wants his guys to enjoy the opportunity in front of them. He said all four semifinalists have gotten a scare during their postseason runs, so he doesn't want to overemphasize the Sting's near-disaster versus University.
Nevertheless, Foster won't soon forget it.
"It makes us savor this more because we know the work we put in," he said, "and we know how close it can come to ending."