Westminster Christian junior Sam Carini can remember when the Warriors team his brothers, Ben and Luke, lost in regional title games.
Carini was in the same position, his team trailing in the fourth quarter, Friday night to the hosts in the Class 1A Harvest Christian regional title game. He scored 7 points in the final quarter, including hitting 2 free throws with 4 seconds remaining, to help Westminster beat Harvest Christian, 45-42.
"After seeing both my brothers get upset in the regional championship games their senior years, this feels awesome," said Carini, who scored a game-high 23 points. "This has been a goal of mine since seventh grade."
The Warriors (17-12) will play at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Serena sectional semifinals against the winner of Saturday's game between Chicagoland Jewish and Chicago Ida Crown. This is Westminster's first regional championship since the 2007-2008 season.
"We had two heartbreakers against Chicagoland Jewish (2010) and Genoa-Kingston (2011)," Westminster coach Bruce Firchau said. "At a point, you wonder if you're just snakebit. Tonight good fortune smiled on us."
Both Westminster and Harvest Christian struggled early on Friday. The Warriors led 4-0 more than 4 minutes into the game. Noah Fox hit a 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining in the first quarter to finally get the Lions (15-14) going. John Vislisel scored the next 5 points as Harvest Christian took an 8-4 lead. Westminster wouldn't lead again until midway through the fourth quarter.
The Lions led 20-18 at halftime and used a 6-0 run to take a 30-22 lead with 1:36 remaining in the third quarter. Conner Rejman hit a 3-pointer with 3 seconds to go to get Westminster within 3, 32-29, going to the fourth.
Robert Kleczynski's basket with 6:04 to go started a 12-0 run for Westminster. The Lions missed the front end of 1-and-1 free throw situations twice during the run. Brian McDonaugh had an offensive rebound and putback with 3:49 remaining to give the Warriors a 35-34 lead, their first lead since 4-3. Dillion Rejman and Carini hit 3-pointers to cap the run as Westminster led 41-34.
Fox hit 2 3-pointers in a 30-second span to get the Lions within 1, 43-42, with 46 seconds remaining.
After the Warriors turned the ball over, Harvest Christian held the ball until under 10 seconds remaining. Vislisel was fouled with 7 seconds remaining. The senior, who was 9-for-9 from the line to that point, missed both free throws.
"We got what we wanted -- our best player at the free-throw line with 7 seconds to go down one," Lions coach Jeff Boldog said. "I will put him there any time.
"Turnovers and free throws did us in."
Carini was fouled and hit 2 free throws with 4 seconds to go for a 45-42 lead. Fox's 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out.
"I was just thinking put these down and ice the game," Carini said of his free throws.
Dillion Rejman scored 11 points for the Warriors.
Vislisel finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Fox added 12 points on 4 3-pointers.