This was something state-ranked Rolling Meadows had not seen over the past three years.
The Mustangs were trailing a Mid-Suburban League team 36-20 with under a minute to go in the first half.
No less, it was a Hersey team that had only lost four times in 29 games. A team that had already given Meadows its toughest MLS East test earlier in the season.
But the Mustangs showed how tough they are, too, with a valiant second-half effort to propel them into Thursday's 7 p.m. championship of the Class 4A Barrington sectional.
The top-seeded Mustangs made 20-of-24 free throws in the final 16 minutes to escape with a 63-56 triumph over No. 4 Hersey.
Rolling Meadows (26-4) will face No. 2 Fremd (27-3) for the sectional title.
Hersey fans were thinking title game at halftime when their Huskies led 36-23.
But senior Jenny Vliet, who scored 11 of the Mustangs' first half points, said the Mustangs were thinking stay poised.
"I know personally when we're in that situation I have to crash the offensive boards," said the 6-foot-2 Vliet, who pulled down a season-high 16 rebounds with her game-tying high 22 points. "I had some good matchups. As a team, I thought we really stayed collected, which isn't always easy in that situation. But we kept our composure."
The Mustangs reduced the deficit to 45-38 after three quarters, getting clutch 3-pointers from Sami Kay and Alexis Glasgow (13 points, 7 rebounds).
Glasgow's hustle on a fastbreak turned into a 3-point play for the Northwestern-bound senior and pulled the Mustangs to within 48-47 with 5:39 left in the game.
Meadows got its first lead at 51-50 on a fastbreak layup by Jackie Kemph (15 points, 5 assists), coming off a big rebound by Ashley Montanez (8 points, 12 rebounds).
A layup by Annie Korff got Hersey to within 53-52 with 2:14 left but the Mustangs converted 10-of-12 free throws the rest of the way to seal their second straight appearance in a regional final.
Glasgow's final point with 15 seconds left gave her 1,500 for her career.
"We told the kids at half, if you're going down, go down using every last ounce of fight you have," Kirkorsky said. "We didn't feel we had to make a lot of adjustments offensively. We just had to hit our shots and lay with more passion on defense."
"We were not ready in the first half," Vliet added. "In the second half, we knew we had to lock down and play practically perfect to get back in the game, and we did."
Hersey played a nearly perfect first half, missing very few shots.
"They had a great game and executed it," said Kirkorsky said. "Their kids came out confident and hitting shots."
Senior guard Morgan Harris was terrific, scoring 19 of her game-tying high 22 points.
A 3-pointer from Claire Gritt (13 points) followed by driving 6-foot floater by Korff (8 points) led to a 7-0 lead for Hersey.
Juliette Vainisi (7 points) came off the bench to deliver some big baskets and Maggie Berigan chipped in 6 points.
"It's not a heartbreaker because we lost," said Hersey coach Mary Fendley. "It's a heartbreaker because this is amazing group of girls we have assembled. They did everything the right way.
"I thought they played as hard as they could but just ran out of energy at the end."
Harris, Renee Poulos (who missed the final four games with a wrist injury), Alysia Zaucha and Sarah Thompson) are the graduating seniors.
"Those four have built our program to the point where we want to be," Fendley said. "They've been so great as players and leaders that what they've built will last us the next few years."