Five minutes away from its first sectional championship, Burlington Central instead saw its season end in agonizing fashion against Rockford Boylan Friday night in the Class 3A Woodstock North sectional championship game.
Michael Kalusa's fifth 3-pointer of the night with 5:03 remaining put the Rockets up 49-44. The Titans responded with a 12-1 run down the stretch to turn the game around, then held on for dear life when Patrick Mayfield's last-second drive was off the mark for a 57-55 victory.
The Titans (22-10) advance to the supersectional at the Sears Centre where they will play North Chicago Tuesday night.
Burlington Central, playing in its first sectional final since 2003, ends its year at 28-4.
"It was tough to put them away," Rockets coach Brett Porto said. "Those physical layups, physical rebounds, loose balls. They got a few more of them late."
In a back-and-forth game played in frenzied atmosphere in front of a standing-room-only crowd, neither team led by more than 7 points. They traded the lead eight times in a wild first quarter that ended with Boylan up 20-19.
Mayfield scored to start the second quarter and put the Rockets ahead 21-20, and they wouldn't trail again until late in the third quarter.
Tied 31-31 at halftime, the Rockets opened the second half on a 7-0 run. After Mayfield's basket, Zach Schutta drilled a 3 and Kalusa scored on a putback for a 38-31 lead.
Ben Ambrose, the only senior in Boylan's starting lineup, single-handedly brought the Titans back. He scored their next 9 points to tie the game at 40 on his way to a game-high 22 -- 17 in the second half.
"They got us on some ball screen rotations and a couple times we lost him so that was disappointing," Porto said. "Normally we do a pretty good job of not letting people take over."
Tied at 44 early in the fourth quarter, Schutta curled through the lane and took a feed from Dejsani Beamon (6 assists, 4 steals) for a basket, then Kalusa buried his trey for a 5-point lead.
Ambrose again hurt the Rockets, first with a conventional 3-point play to pull within 49-48. After Jake Bergstrom put the Titans ahead with a layup, Ambrose penetrated and dished to Jack Zuba down low for a lay-in and a 52-49 lead with 2:01 remaining.
Boylan pushed its lead to 56-50 before a frantic Rockets rally in the final 40 seconds. Beamon's drive made it 56-52. After an Ambrose free throw, Will Hough swished a 3 to pull the Rockets within 57-55.
With their coaches desperately trying to get the team to foul, Burlington instead caught a break when the Titans threw the ball out of bounds with 8.3 seconds left -- their 17th turnover to just 9 for the Rockets.
The Rockets inbounded to Mayfield who drove down the lane into traffic, and his off-balance shot from about 6 feet away came up short off the rim.
"I don't think so," when Mayfield was asked if he was fouled on the play. "I feel we had them the whole game. We got up 7 and I thought we would keep going but that's a good team. They played good defense and got stops."
Kalusa led Burlington Central with 17 points and 7 rebounds.
"I expect nothing less from Michael," Porto said. "He plays with all heart. He had a really good three-year career. If you are going to go down that's the way you go down."
Schutta, the school's all-time leading scorer, scored 14 points and also grabbed 7 rebounds. The Rockets held their own on the glass, winning 33-32.
"We got up seven and I think we put up a couple stupid shots," Schutta said. "They are a really good basketball team that's going to punish you for silly mistakes."
Mayfield, the only non-senior in the Rockets' starting lineup, added 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.
"When coach had his talk, I hate that feeling," Mayfield said. "I'll never get to play with them (the seniors) again. I don't ever want to think that but it has to end sometime."
Johnny Close (11 points), Jon Starck (11) and Bergstrom (10) joined Ambrose in double figures for Boylan, who got the ball inside for several good looks to shoot 48.9 percent (23 for 47) from the field to Burlington's 37.7 percent (20 for 53).
"We've been in these type of games all year long," Boylan coach Brett McAllister said. "That was the message in the timeouts because we've been in these spots all year long. That atmosphere was an absolute blast. We have so much respect for Burlington and what they did this year. For us to do that tonight is just incredible."