The first game-winning shot of Tomas Vikonis' life couldn't have come at a better time for Bartlett.
Vikonis hit nothing but net on a 14-foot baseline jumper with just .9 seconds remaining Wednesday, giving the Hawks a 54-52 victory over St. Charles East in the Class 4A Larkin regional semifinals.
"I like the midrange," Vikonis said. "I was confident in my shot. It felt good. I'd been struggling with my jump shot this season. It was a relief."
Vikonis took a pass from Ben Tompson, who penetrated and drew help.
"I was just trying to get to the basket," Tompson said. "I saw him on the wing. Great play to end it. I just wanted to win."
The Saints had one last chance. They tried a similar play that produced Justin Hardy's buzzer-beating 30-footer earlier this year against St. Charles North, but this time the Hawks knocked away Zach Mitchell's full-court pass.
"With .9 seconds it was a prayer at that point," Saints coach Patrick Woods said. "I go to church but it didn't help there.
"The kid (Vikonis) hit a tough shot. Credit him for that."
The sixth-seeded Hawks (18-12) will play No. 5 Larkin for the regional title Friday. Second-seeded St. Charles East ends its season at 18-9 despite 29 points and 13 rebounds from Hardy, including the tying basket just before the Vikonis game-winner.
Tompson led the Hawks with 26 points, but it was his pass that decided things.
"Ben did exactly what he is supposed to do," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "He drove the lane and drew the bodies and kicked it out to a shooter. Tomas did a great job. We've been working on that midrange shot. Absolutely perfect."
Bartlett was close to perfect in the first half. It took the Hawks 16 minutes to build an 11-point halftime lead, hitting 14 of their 25 shots in the first half.
It only took four minutes in the third quarter for the Saints to erase that, setting up a wild final quarter and a half when neither team led by more than 2 points as they battled through 15 ties or lead changes.
"That's exactly what I expected to start the game with," Woods said of the third quarter. "We just weren't there unfortunately. You saw once we got our feet under us we were great. But you can't spot a team that many points in the beginning. The turnovers killed us."
Zach Robinson's steal and layup gave the Saints their first lead, 36-34. Tompson, who combined with Austin Gates for 8 steals, did the same thing for the Hawks to tie the game.
Hardy drilled a long 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer to put the Saints up 42-40. Tompson tied the game with a basket, then Vikonis made 2 free throws to put Bartlett back up, 44-42.
Hardy's free throws and his high-low assist to Wade Kyle inside gave the Saints their final lead, 46-44.
After a basket from Vikonis, Tompson's fourth steal led to another layup, putting the Hawks up 48-46 with 3:20 left. Bartlett scored 20 points off Saints turnovers.
Bartlett didn't make another field goal until Vikonis nailed his jumper in the final second. The Hawks missed 3 of 7 free throws in the last three minutes, including the front end of a one-and-one, to give the Saints a chance to come back, and St. Charles East finally caught Bartlett at 52-52 when Hardy scored inside with :19 left.
"Bottom line, that is not your normal semifinal game," said Woods, whose team outrebounded the Hawks 25-19 but committed 4 more turnovers.
Robinson added 12 points and 5 rebounds for the Saints, who shot 50 percent (19 of 38) from the field. Bartlett, who got 13 points from Vikonis and 7 from Gates, was even better at 51.1 percent (22 of 43).
"Our kids finally settled in, played their game and got in a rhythm again," Wolfsmith said of the second half. "It was that kind of game. I thought we did a great job responding. The only thing I would have liked to have seen is a little better free-throw shooting down the stretch."