With time running out in the Class 4A Belleville East Regional final Friday and a potential game-winning shot by Belleville East junior B'Aunce Carter hanging on the rim for what seemed like an eternity, Edwardsville senior Kate Martin had one thought.
"I was praying the shot would not go in,'' Martin said.
Pushed to the limit by a Belleville East team it had soundly defeated twice during the regular season, Edwardsville, the top-ranked Class 4A team in the state, came away with a 41-40 win over the Lancers in a game that left coaches, players and fans stunned as the final buzz sounded.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Carter, who led all scorers with 16 points and was the one most responsible for bringing the Lancers back from an eight-point third quarter deficit, took a pass from Kaylah Rainey with time running down. After bobbling the pass, and with Edwardsville defenders doing everything they could to stop it, Carter put up the shot.
The ball rolled around the rim, then stayed there for a second before falling off as players from both teams fell to the court in disbelief.
"I should talk to our athletic director about turning off the air conditioner too soon. If he leaves it on for a few more minutes, maybe it goes in the basket,'' an emotional East coach Amanda Kemezys quipped after the game. "Seriously though, as heartsick as I'm sure B'Aunce (Carter) is right now, she has to realize that without her we're not in that position to have a chance to win the basketball game.
"As physical as it was out there and as much as she got bumped around tonight, she accepted the challenge. Her teammates sacrificed tonight because they knew that getting her the basketball was our best chance to win the game. I couldn't be any prouder of a basketball team than I am of this one right now.''
Senior Rachel Pranger led Edwardsville with 13 points while Martin added 12. The Tigers (27-0) advance to the Champaign Centennial; Sectional on Monday where they will take on Chatham-Glenwood, which upset O'Fallon to win the Chatham-Glenwood Regional on Thursday.
But after the win Friday, there was no wild celebration by the Tigers. As they posed for pictures, the feeling was more relief than anything else that they had survived their biggest challenge of the season.
"This time of year, its survive and move on. We did that tonight,'' an emotional Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. "That's the Belleville East team we expected to see all year. They had a perfect game plan and they executed it to perfection. Fortunately for us we made enough plays to win the game.
"I don't know how the ball didn't go in. I'm very happy for our kids because we get to move on. But I feel for B'Aunce. It was a great high school basketball game. It's a shame that anybody had to lose tonight.''
Pranger gave Edwardsville a 29-21 lead midway in the third quarter. But with Carter and senior Jailyn McClenny each providing offense, East (18-10) closed to within 32-27 after three quarters.
Edwardsville led 41-37 following two free throws by Quierra Love with 33 seconds remaining, but Martin fouled Lancers senior Brittney Nitz on a 3-point shot with 16 seconds left.
Nitz calmly made all three free throws to slice the lead to 41-40.
Forced to foul, the Lancers fouled Martin with 14.9 seconds left. The senior all-state forward missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set the stage for the final few seconds of the game.
"When we found out we would probably be playing Edwardsville in this game, we made a whole bunch of changes in the last week. We put in things the girls had never played before and they were all very receptive to them,'' Kemezys said. " Tonight we must have used four or five defenses.
"We had a great game plan and the girls executed that game plan to perfection. We had the shot we wanted. It just didn't go in. That happens sometimes.''