Joey Lovelle's name is a perfect match for how coaches feel about the way he plays basketball.
Especially when they watched the 5-foot-10 Wauconda senior in the final seconds of a tied North Suburban Prairie boys basketball game with visiting Vernon Hills on Friday night.
The smallest player on the floor didn't hesitate to take an open lane and drive into much taller traffic. And Lovelle didn't shy away after his shot bounced off the rim.
Lovelle grabbed the miss, was fouled with 2.9 seconds to play and made his first free throw to give the Bulldogs a 54-53 victory.
"I was just waiting for him (the official) to say it was a foul on my arm or something," Lovelle said when he heard the whistle. "My mind was racing ... and I was just trying to zone everything out and focus on my shot. I was doing what I can to use the same form the way I do it every time."
Lovelle made the first in a one-and-bonus situation. He missed the second but 6-6 teammate Ricky Sidlowski grabbed it and dribbled out the clock for the Bulldogs (11-4, 3-0).
"I was joking with Joey before the game that I feel like every year I've been coming here for 13 years, there's a Lovelle on the court," said Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty in admiration. "Those boys always play hard and they're good competitors."
That's why Wauconda coach Scott Luetschwager wasn't afraid to make Lovelle his second option after senior Dion Head (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) out of a timeout with 25 seconds left. Vernon Hills (10-5, 3-2) junior Bo Manso deflected a pass out of bounds with 11.6 seconds left and Lovelle (7 points) wound up getting a chance to prevent overtime.
"Joey's a fighter, he's a warrior and he battles," Luetschwager said. "It's one of those things where he's small in stature but big in heart.
"He's aggressive like that, and if any little guy is going to get the rebound, it's going to be Joey."
Vernon Hills erased a 26-17 deficit with a 16-2 tear that bridged halftime. Scoring leader Robby Nardini missed his first five 3s but his fourth of the game made it a 47-41 lead with 7:32 to play and gave him 24 points.
But Nardini missed his final 4 shots to finish 9-for-26 and 6-4 junior shot-blocker Lem Turner had to be helped off the court when he came down wrong on his left ankle with 7:20 left. McCarty said the ankle was already pretty swollen by the time he got out to check on Turner.
Three consecutive turnovers helped Wauconda tie it on Sidlowski's short jumper. Sophomore Kevin Malisheski made it four straight miscues when he dived on the floor for a loose ball and called time with 2:44 left.
But some pushing and jawing saw Malisheski hit with a technical foul and Michael Mariella hit 1 of 2 free throws to put Vernon Hills ahead 51-50.
Wauconda responded with a defensive stop and 2 free throws by Ben Carlson (10 points, 8 rebounds) at 1:54.
"They made sure they didn't let it bother them and kept playing," Luetschwager said.
"As a senior leader I had to make sure my guys were controlled and composed because we knew it was a big game," Lovelle said. "It was a really important moment in the game and it could have gone either way. We stepped up and accepted the challenge."
Manso (8 points, 6 rebounds) found Matt Weaver for a layup off an inbound pass to put Vernon Hills up 53-52 at 1:05. Malisheski tied it with a free throw 11 seconds later.
Nardini missed a 3 at 0:36 as Vernon Hills went 6-for-23 on 3s and shot just 37.9 percent overall (22-for-58).
"I told our kids we didn't earn a victory tonight and Wauconda deserved to win the game," McCarty said. "Credit them defensively for harassing us in their matchup zone. They forced us into some shots I wasn't really happy with."