ORLAND PARK | Sandburg coach Todd Allen's message to his players before playing Homewood-Flossmoor was simple.
"Guys, they may beat us seven, eight, nine times if we play them 10 times," the Sandburg coach said. "But we only play them once."
It was a riff off Herb Brooks' speech to his hockey players before the U.S. played the Soviets in Lake Placid in 1980. It worked then, and it worked again on Wednesday night.
The Eagles' 71-68 regional semifinal victory over Homewood-Flossmoor was an upset that will resound through the Thornton Sectional. But Sandburg (10-17) can't celebrate long, for they play the winner of Thursday's all-District 230 match between Andrew and Stagg on Friday night.
The method of the shocker was as surprising as the outcome. The Vikings (21-6) had tied the game on Lamar Wofford-Humphrey's 3-pointer with 4:56 to play, but Sandburg had played a smart team game all night. When it mattered most, they did so again.
Malek Harris scored on a drive and hit a free-throw for a 49-46 lead. But Harris, who often goes over 20 points for the Eagles, scored only 17 against H-F. Instead, he played the role of leader to the hilt.
"I'm proud of them (his teammates) more than anything," Harris said. "Coach told me I had to lead today, and I think I had my best game as a leader."
His 17, Niko Cahue's 16 points, Murad Elayyan's 12 and Niko Kogionis' 10 more than answered the 31-point showing of Maurius Hill on a night H-F was without the services of Rashaan Surles. Wofford-Humphrey scored 11 for the Vikings, who were sequestered in their locker room for at least 45 minutes after the game.
Homewood-Flossmoor held the lead for most of the first three quarters. It was 29-22 late in the first half, and the ball was bouncing the Vikings' way. Two plays, one late in the second quarter, another starting the third, made for an eight-point swing in H-F's favor. But the Vikings faded down the stretch.
"It's ridiculous," Cahue said of the turnaround. "We kept sharing the ball. Everyone contributed. And we didn't hurry things. Coach said, 'Be quick' in our walk-through, but we didn't hurry."
John Wooden used that phrase at UCLA for decades. Like Brooks' thought of one game being the only one that mattered, it paid off for Sandburg on Wednesday night.