The last 3.5 seconds of No. 10 Hinsdale South's 44-41 upset victory in the Class 4A Downers Grove North boys basketball regional final will go down as one of the great moments in Hornets history.
For No. 2 Geneva, the result of those 3.5 seconds will sting for a long time.
Needing to go the length of the court after Upstate Eight River champion Geneva (28-3) was whistled for traveling with 3.5 seconds left in a tied game, West Suburban Gold co-champ Hinsdale South (19-11) inbounded to senior guard Nick Perry who was already moving at full speed coming off a screen.
The play had two options, as Hornets coach Brett Moore drew it up in the huddle during consecutive timeouts. Once over midcourt Perry could drive to the rim himself or dish to an open shooter if Geneva's defense converged on him.
When one of the Vikings left 3-point shooter Karol Lipiszko alone in the corner to lend help defense against the hard-charging Hinsdale South guard, Perry passed to his open teammate. Lipiszko buried the 3-pointer at the buzzer, igniting a frenzied celebration that ended in a midcourt dogpile.
"Nick went around on a little screen play, he got doubled, passed out to me," said Lipiszko, who until that point had contributed one 3-point basket. " I wasn't guarded. I hit it. Greatest shot I've ever hit in my life, for sure."
Hinsdale South advances to a Hinsdale Central sectional semifinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Hornets will face Wheaton North (23-6), which defeated Benet Academy 64-55 to win the York regional.
The buzzer beater denied Geneva a regional title, ending a fairy tale season that began with 26 straight victories.
"It certainly didn't work out the way we wanted to," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said of the final play. "We had two guys running at the ball. We had fouls to give and that was kind of the plan. If they caught it, we wanted to let at least a second or two go off and no-shot foul. Unfortunately, two guys ran at the ball, leaving a guy wide open in the corner. He hit a great shot. It's tough to lose that way."
Hinsdale South limited Geneva to a season-low 41 points. The Vikings made 15 of 31 shots, but most of their offense came from the perimeter with athletic 6-foot-5 senior Zion Griffin looming in the paint.
Geneva sophomore Mitch Mascari led the way with four 3-pointers for a team-best 14 points. Senior Dom Navigato managed 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, but Geneva leading scorer Cole Navigato was limited to 4 points on 4 shot attempts by the Hornets, who won their second straight regional championship.
"I've seen a lot of teams where the kids haven't necessarily bought in, but our kids are willing to give up all the individual stuff," Moore said. "Their work on defense, they know how important defense is. We've been talking all week about getting shirts that say "back-to-back regional championships" and "reloaded" as two themes to this week. We reloaded with a lot of guys and I'm really proud these guys stepped up."
Geneva led 14-11 after a quarter, but the Hornets limited the Vikings to 7 second-quarter points in taking a 23-21 halftime lead.
Griffin connected on a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to stake Hinsdale South to a 36-31 lead, but the Vikings roared back into the lead by a point, thanks to consecutive 3-pointers by Dom Navigato and Mascari.
Five of the game's nine lead changes took place in the final 5:53. With the scored tied 41-41 with 1:35 left, Geneva held the ball for a final shot. Sophomore point guard Jack McDonald drove to the right of the lane with time winding down and attempted a pullup jumpshot, however, he was whistled for a traveling violation.
Twenty minutes later Geneva coach Phil Ralston found himself talking about one of the proud program's most exciting teams in the past tense.
"I'll say this, there's no one who even gave us a snowball's chance of even being a top 20 team at the beginning of the season much less have the kind of season we did," Ralston said. "It's a shame that our resume doesn't have a regional plaque with it, but we were right there at the end. Had things worked out differently we'd be cutting down nets and taking home a plaque, but you know sometimes games come down to that. They had to make a play and we didn't. It's as simple as that."
Griffin led the Hornets with 14 points and senior guard Diamond Anderson had 11.