"America's Original March Madness" got off to an early start this season.
Metea Valley sophomore Payton Thorne connected on a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, and the Mustangs (10-19) outscored Batavia 12-5 in the 4-minute extra session during their 70-63 Class 4A regional quarterfinal victory Monday night in Batavia.
"That's what you want this time of year -- a hard-fought game that comes down to the last possession," said Metea Valley coach Matt Walpole. "The team has to make a play and we just made enough."
After senior forward Colin Cheaney (20 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) sank a pair of free throws to put Batavia on top 57-53 with 43 seconds left in regulation, Metea Valley senior forward Jeremy Hunter (game-high 21 points, 9 rebounds) countered with 2 free throws to make it 57-55 with 8.8 seconds left.
The Bulldogs (14-16) left the door ajar by splitting 2 free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Thorne's game-tying heroics.
Jayden Reed fired a 60-foot inbounds pass to Thorne, who dribbled, turned and drained the clutch 35-foot jumper.
"Coach (Walpole) put me in a spot where I was possibly going to have a shot," said Thorne, who added 4 of his 10 points in overtime. "Jayden Reed threw me a nice pass down the court -- it hit me in stride."
The shot appeared to give a huge emotional lift to the Mustangs, who grabbed a 62-58 lead during the first minute of overtime on baskets from sophomore Ethan Helwig (17 points) and Hunter.
"It carried into overtime," Walpole said of his team's momentum. "We were able to put them on their heels a little bit and that really helped us finish off the win."
In a game that featured 19 lead changes and 9 ties, neither team led by more than 5 points until Reed's 2 free throws gave Metea a 66-60 advantage with 42 seconds left in overtime.
"It was one of those games that you have to gut out," said Walpole. "I'm so proud of our guys. They've had a difficult season so it's nice for them to get a taste of this."
Freshman Jayden Johnson and junior Eric Peterson added 15 and 14 points, respectively, for the Bulldogs.
"In these situations, I always feel sorry for the ones I'll never see play here again," said Batavia coach Jim Nazos. "I really feel bad for the whole team, especially the seniors.
"The season is full of peaks and valleys. This is rock bottom here when you know you're not going to be able to get out there again. We did a lot of things right on the floor. There is something to be said for that but it's a tough ending."
Senior guard Ashton Creal added 11 points and 5 rebounds as the 20th-seeded Mustangs advance to Tuesday's regional semifinals against No. 4 seed Naperville North (21-5).
Naperville North defeated Metea twice in conference play this season (79-67 on Dec. 7 and 64-43 on Jan. 27).
"There's no expectation on us," said Walpole. "We're going to give them our best shot."