UNION TWP. | Four years of great basketball came down to a remarkable steal, a drive to the basket at the other end of the floor, and a great move to put a layup to the rim with 12 seconds left in overtime.
A chance at a school-record 17 wins while advancing in the Class 2A Wheeler Sectional opener was on the line. But Lake Station's Ricky Garcia watched his layup roll to the left.
Consequently, Wheeler won the white-knuckle opener, 59-55 in overtime as the Bearcats (13-8) advanced to play Bowman Academy in Friday's semifinal. Bishop Noll beat River Forest 68-42 in the second game.
Garcia also had a 3-pointer at the end of regulation fall short.
"He's 5-foot-7 and he finished his high school career with 995 points, that's not supposed to happen," Lake Station coach Bryon Clouse said. "If he would've made that shot in the corner he'd have 998 and we'd still be playing."
The Eagles finished 16-6 for the second winter in a row, one agonizing win away from the school record for wins.
It was Wheeler's defense that ended the prep careers of six Lake Station seniors. A trapping zone would not allow Garcia or Dwayne Haden into the middle. Then, unlike Wheeler's 11-point loss to the Eagles in December, the Bearcats hit the boards.
The 'Cats finished with 25 caroms to Lake Station's 18.
"We knew we had to play defense and get the rebounds, we worked on that all week," said Wheeler junior Christian Sikoski, who scored 15 points and had 13 rebounds. "This is huge for us."
Wheeler coach Tom Johnson said in his 18 years of coaching he's never had a team improve so much from Day 1 to the postseason. Nick Naspinski added 14 points and Jeremy Truchan had 11.
Lake Station freshman Brian Patterson scored a game-high 17 points. Garcia had 11 and Haden 10.
"We knew Bryon's team would not lie down," Johnson said. "He's got a bunch of seniors and he's built a great program over there. We had a lot of guys really step up tonight. (Naspinski) had his best game of the year."
In the second matchup, the Warriors (19-3) advanced to playing Whiting in Friday's other semifinal.
The biggest news wasn't the score. Noll senior guard Dean Danos left the game early in the first quarter with a foot-ankle issue. He sat behind the Warriors bench with ice on the injury. One game after he scored 30 against Andrean on Friday, he did not score against the Ingots (5-16).
"Dean's been injured a lot, he gets nervous," Noll coach Drew Trost said. "Maybe he's overreacting."
Ronnye Beamon Jr. led Noll with 19 points, Larry Crisler had 12 and Jonathon Bock had 10.
"They were trying to stall and I think our guys did a good job of putting half-court pressure on them so they couldn't," Trost said. "(Beamon) was real aggressive attacking their zone. He had a nice game."
Trost also spoke highly of River Forest junior Justin Pennington, who scored 17.
"He's a nice player," Trost said. "He plays really hard."