Even Lisle coach Dan Murray, the picture of intensity on the bench, couldn't help but let a smile creep onto his face during the last timeout.
After all this, his Lions could win this thing.
Lisle missed two shots in the game's final seconds, and Plano hung on for a 33-32 win in Thursday's championship game of the Interstate Eight Conference Tournament in Wilmington after being up 15 with five minutes and change left.
In defeat Murray appreciated his girls' fight.
"It would have been nice to pull that one out," Murray said, "but I'm super proud of my girls for showing so much resilience, for continuing to battle and to not give up. It could have been very easy to do, with the way we struggled offensively. It shows a lot about their character."
Victory did not seem like much of a reality for large stretches of the game. Just making a shot was more a reasonable goal.
Lisle (19-4) went a staggering 21 minutes without a field goal, spanning the entire second and third quarters when the Lions scored on just 4 free throws. A big reason for that was the presence of 6-foot-3 Plano junior Clarisa Martinez, who had 12 blocks to go with her 8 points and 14 rebounds.
"She's a force," Plano coach Mario Serra said, "and she doesn't have to score to be a factor in games. Everything flows through her."
A 9-8 Lisle lead after a quarter turned into a 30-15 Plano advantage with 5:22 left in the fourth. A Sierra Birdsell layup finally ended the Lisle drought, and when Birdsell's 3-pointer from the top of the key hit the back rim and crawled in with 2:43 left it was 31-25. Birdsell swished another 3, and Kristina Fernette found Kelly Urban for a backdoor layup to make it 33-32 with 28 ticks remaining.
Martinez missed a contested layup at the other end, Lisle hurried it up the court and called time with with 4.6 seconds on the clock.
Out of the timeout Birdsell missed a tough runner in the lane and got the rebound, but her shot met the brick wall that was Martinez and her 12th block as time expired.
"We didn't get it to our primary spot, actually our first two primary spots, but Sierra did a great job of trying to make a play," Murray said.
Martinez, named the tournament MVP, was coming off a triple-double on Tuesday against Coal City. Lisle got her into foul trouble in the teams' first meeting, a 45-32 Lisle win in November. Not this time.
The game was somewhat reminiscent of Lisle's last loss, 40-39 to Newark in the final of the Lisle Cage Classic, in that the Lions dug a significant deficit, rallied, but fell short. Murray knew to expect a different Plano team in the second go-around. The Reapers (18-4) have run off 14 straight wins since Dec. 1.
"The big kid is obviously a factor and their guards did a much better job against our pressure than the first game," Murray said. "We struggled to get into a flow tonight, but a lot of that is because of Plano."
Urban and Fernette both scored 9 points for Lisle, the top seed in the tournament. Zhate Jackson scored 9 for No. 2 Plano, which won its first I-8 tournament title in its first championship-game appearance.
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