St. Francis stuns Burlington Central in final seconds
Sebastian Miller saw his open opportunity and stormed through the lane.
With the clock ticking toward zero and St. Francis down one point with under 10 seconds left, Miller, a Spartans sophomore, drove in for a game-winning layup with five seconds left. St. Francis went on to stun top-seeded Burlington Central on its home floor 60-59 to win the Class 3A Burlington Central regional title.
"I knew once I got the ball, it was either going to be a quick shot or pass the ball quickly," Miller said. "I just saw an open lane and just took it."
Burlington Central (23-10) led 59-53 with 1:07 remaining, but missed free throws and rebound opportunities opened the door for St. Francis. Spartans forward Robert Nocek hit a pair of free throws to pull with 59-55, which was then followed by a missed free throw from Burlington Central forward Jake Lenschow.
Danny Blank hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to close the deficit to one, but the Rockets (23-9) had a few more chances to close.
"I wasn't thinking necessarily to get a three; I knew we needed to score a two or three," Blank said. "I took it into my hands, hit the shot and my guys, my teammates, they were there for a rebound, so it was a great team win."
Burlington Central's Zac Schmidt then missed a free throw with 13 seconds left, setting the stage for Miller's heroics.
After Miller's shot, Lenschow pushed the ball quickly up the court and got a good look from about 10 feet but his shot hit off the glass and rolled around the rim and off to finish off the Spartans' stunning comeback.
"Coach (Erin Dwyer) believed in us," Blank said. "He said 'We're the best team in this sectional (and) we took that to heart."
Lenschow finished his Rockets career with 15 points and 5 rebounds, while Gavin Sarvis had 13 points and 5 rebounds. Carson Seyller and Josh Hudgens each had 10 points.
"It's kind of hard to put (my feelings) into words," Lenschow said. "I really don't know what to say ... I'd say we struggled getting back on defense a little bit in the second half. They fought for everything; got every board and all the second chances, so I think that's what it came down to."
St. Francis (20-13) advances to the Rockford Boylan sectional semifinal on Tuesday to face Wauconda, who beat Belvidere North 54-41. The Spartans won their second regional title in three years and their eighth overall regional in program history.
"We had our destiny in our own hands, and we just weren't able to kind of come through tonight," Rockets coach Brett Porto said.
Miller finished with 6 points, while Blank had 11 points and 2 rebounds. Nocek led St. Francis with 13 points and 7 rebounds. Brendan Yarusso had 8 points and 3 rebounds.
"I couldn't be more proud of this group of kids," Dwyer said. "(And), the leadership they've given us all year. I just wanted to give us a chance to stay in the game, then all of a sudden we make a couple plays and the kids stepped up. It was an amazing finish. Burlington Central is an amazing team. That is one of the best teams we've played all season. They're coached incredibly well."
"They don't think like a five seed," Dwyer continued.