There was every reason for the Libertyville boys basketball team to give up.
The Wildcats got off to a horrible start Friday night against Conant in the Class 4A regional championship at Deerfield.
By the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats were down 12-0, and down 22-9 at halftime.
"In the locker room at halftime, we were demoralized," Libertyville guard Josh Steinhaus said. "They came out firing and we couldn't hit anything."
The frustration for Libertyville continued into the second half.
The Wildcats' deficit ballooned to as many as 17 points in the third quarter, and was 15 points a few minutes into the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, superstar Drew Peterson was relatively quiet for the Wildcats. He entered the fourth quarter with just 7 points to his name.
Maybe it just wasn't Libertyville's night.
Or maybe ...
With about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, it was like the Wildcats hit a switch. They stuck a pesky full-court press on Conant, forced some turnovers, started making shots and slowly but surely got back into the game.
An amazing fourth quarter performance by Peterson, a dramatic end to regulation that saw Steinhaus knock down a late 3-pointer off a Conant turnover to force overtime, and an off-balance buzzer-beater 3-pointer by Peterson to end the game yielded a wild and crazy 59-56 overtime comeback victory for Libertyville over a stunned Conant team.
It is Libertyville's first regional title since 2004.
"We had to get a miracle to get this, and all of us just started hitting our shots at the end," said Peterson, who scored 20 of Libertyville's 23 fourth-quarter points to help the Wildcats out-scored Conant in the fourth quarter 23-12. "It was fate that we won this game and a crazy turn of events and that last shot in overtime, it's all just a miracle.
"It was fate because being down that much, I have to think that 99 percent of teams don't win that game. But we came out strong and we did it."
Peterson did the heavy lifting in the fourth quarter. He was virtually unstoppable, hitting tough shots with defenders up in his grill, including three 3-pointers, and knocking down 7-of-9 free throws.
While Peterson, who finished with a game-high 30 points, was keeping Libertyville afloat with offense, the Wildcats were forcing 7 Conant turnovers in the fourth quarter with their full-court press.
With about 11 seconds left, Libertyville forced a turnover and then Steinhaus, who finished with 21 points, hit his big 3-pointer to force overtime.
"Drew Peterson and Josh Steinhaus ... huge shots down the stretch," said Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski, whose team moves to 19-9 on the season and will face Lake Zurich on Tuesday at the Lake Zurich sectional. "Those guys got everyone fired up (at halftime), and they led the charge. I'm just proud of everyone. This team all year has done things that have surprised me, coming back to win games where we were down 10 to 15 points. They just fight, they claw back.
"Words can't even express how I feel right now."
The same could be said for how the Conant players and coaches were feeling in the wake of Libertyville's victory. The outlook for the Cougars, who close out their season with a 21-8 record, looked good for most of the game.
But the late turnovers were a problem, Libertyville's late hot shooting was a problem, as so was the loss of two starters, Ben Schols and Ryan Davis, both of whom fouled out.
"It's obviously a tough situation, we could have done some things differently," Conant coach Jim Maley said. "They (Libertyville) started getting some confidence and we lost some. Peterson is a great player and he obviously stepped up. I just wish we would have had all of our guys on the floor at the end. Our two best guys fouled out and that was tough."
Raj Mittal tried to pick up the slack for Conant. He finished with 18 points to match the 18 points from Davis as a team-high, and he was 6-of-6 from the free throw line over the fourth quarter and overtime.
"This is just so tough," Mittal said. "This season was special and I still can't believe it's over. It felt like we were cut short."