The high school basketball playoffs is a place where dreams can come true and they sure did for Bartlett senior Tomas Vikonis on Friday night.
With less than a second to play Vikonis banked in a game winning 3-point shot from just left of the top of the key to lift the host Hawks to a stunning 45-42 victory over Wheaton Warrenville South in the Class 4A Bartlett regional finals.
"That's the kind of play you just dream about a lot growing up as a kid," Vikonis said. "To do it in front of the home crowd and in the regional finals -- it just doesn't get any better than that."
It's the Hawks first regional title since they advanced to the supersectional in 2010. During that seven-year span Bartlett has lost in the regional finals three times.
"It's been way too long," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "This is for all those kids the past several years that carried the torch. The ones who knocked on the door and didn't get through. This win is for them."
The Hawks (15-12) will face Benet in the second semifinal of the Glenbard East sectional Tuesday night.
It should have come as no surprise that the hard-fought battle came down to a final shot after 4 lead changes in the fourth quarter and 3 ties at 38-38, 40-40, and 42-42. WWS tied the game for the final time at 42-42 with 40 seconds to play on a basket inside by Jeff Kratz.
The Hawks then played keep away until the last second shot by Vikonis.
"We definitely wanted to hold the ball for the last shot in that situation," Wolfsmith said. "Even if we miss it at the very worst we go to overtime. We were in a 1-3-1 set up and the kids did a great job of moving the ball around. Tomas' shot was a little long, but it was a good long right off the glass."
The Hawks were clutch at the free throw line in the final quarter making all 8 of their shots from the charity stripe. Vikonis and Ben Fisher had 4 free throws each in the fourth quarter. Byron Price also had a big 3-pointer earlier in the quarter to get the Hawks back to within a point after they had fallen behind 35-31.
Bartlett led throughout much of the first three quarters and by as many as 8 points, 19-11, midway the second quarter.
"It was a great game by both teams," Wolfsmith said. "They are a very disciplined team and I thought we were able to match their discipline. We did a really good job of handling their ball pressure and being patient to find the open shot."
Fisher was a force in the middle with a game-high 16 points. Vikonis added 13.
"They are one of the few teams we played this year that were smaller than us," Fisher said. "I had that in my favor and took advantage of it. I think losing by 20 points last year in the regional finals really motivated us. Plus having the home crowd was a big advantage. This is definitely going down as one of my favorite memories ever."
The Tigers (23-7) came up short despite shooting 14 of 22 (63 percent) from the field. The Tigers were haunted by 7 second half turnovers in a game where every possession was crucial.
Parker Robinson had a team-high 13 points for the Tigers.
"It was extremely intense and a struggle between both teams," WWS coach Mike Healy said. "I certainly can't fault the effort of our kids. They battled the whole way. This is a special group of seniors who can be proud of the legacy they have left."