Victoria Trowbridge leaned forward as she released, almost wishing the free throw in.
Nothing but net.
Naperville Central's senior endured a difficult night at the line but washed it all away with a make with 2.9 seconds left to give the No. 5 Redhawks a 48-47 win over previously unbeaten No. 3 Neuqua Valley in Saturday's championship of the Oswego Holiday Classic.
Trowbridge, normally a reliable 75 percent or so shooter, missed her first four attempts, 1 of 6 in the first half.
It was only fitting, then, that she had an opportunity to win it there at the end. She missed the first, then made the second.
"Today I just couldn't get my rhythm," said tournament MVP Trowbridge, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds. "I guess when it counted it finally went in. As soon as it came off my hand I felt like it was short, I couldn't believe it wasn't going in. But it did."
Naperville Central (12-1) relished the title in its first year at Oswego, a well-earned one at that.
The Redhawks broke out to a 15-5 early lead, then watched as Neuqua turned up the pressure to go ahead 32-20 at half. Naperville Central gradually whittled away at Neuqua's lead, then got it done at the end.
"We really didn't play like we wanted to in the first half, but we were still close enough that we could come back," Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum said. "That's a big, big win for us against a very good team when we were down."
Key was the Redhawks turning it over just seven times in the second half, keeping the pace to their liking.
"We just knew that we had to keep our heads in it, that we were in it together," Trowbridge said, "and keep our cool."
Neuqua (14-1), the champion at Oswego the last two years, seemed to have the pace of the game turned in its favor, forcing 7 second-quarter turnovers and outscoring Naperville Central 17-3. Najee Smith scored 11 of her 16 points in the first half, and Lauren Deveikis sparked the Wildcats off the bench with three 3-pointers. Naperville Central made just 9 of 22 free throws for the game -- 2 of 10 in the first half -- while Neuqua was 15 of 19.
But attrition, in part, may have worn down Neuqua.
Starting point guard Malia Smith was hit in the head midway through the second quarter and didn't return with a possible concussion. And fellow starter Allison Hedrick, saddled with foul trouble all night, fouled out late in the third quarter.
"It was a phenomenal learning experience for our kids," said Neuqua coach Mike Williams, shrugging off one midseason defeat. "We know we're a good team. I'm not really worried about this game. We needed a sting, and this is a stinger."
Naperville Central's size hurt Neuqua to the tune of 15 offensive rebounds, and a further catalyst was the speed of sophomore guard Cierra Stanciel.
Stanciel scored 8 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter, her steal and breakaway layup with 4:43 left giving the Redhawks their first lead since early second quarter at 41-40.
Naperville Central never trailed again, but a Najee Smith score off a lob from freshman Kai Moon tied it at 47-47 with 2:23 left. It was Neuqua's only basket of the fourth quarter.
"Cierra adds an element of defense, she adds quickness," Trowbridge said. "Those arms of hers, and her hands, they're just so quick. She adds so much to this team."