HERCHER — After enduring a fourth quarter in which the Herscher Tigers missed seven free throws, it looked as though senior guard Austin Mendell helped his team atone for their struggles. Mendell hit a clutch three-point field goal with one second left in regulation, after which the hosts and Coalers were headed to overtime.
Though Coal City would go on to miss eight free throws in two overtimes, the locals were able to close the game out to record a 52-50 win over Herscher in the opening round of the Herscher Class 3A Regional on Monday.
"It says a lot about these guys," Coal City coach Brad Boresi said. "I just can't say enough about how they responded tonight. We won and we moved on."
Though it could have gone either way.
"We've battled all year," Coal City junior guard Brennan Shetina said. "Were were down 15 to these guys at halftime earlier in the year and battled back to win."
With 46 seconds left to play in regulation, Coal City had just gotten two free throws each from Shetina and Joe Micetich to give the Coalers a 44-39 lead. However, Mitchell Schwarzkopf (24 points) made two free throws five seconds later before time wound down inside of 10 seconds.
Coal City post player Nick Peters had just blocked a Schwarzkopf three-point attempt out of bounds when coach Todd Schwarzkopf called timeout with six ticks left. Out of the stoppage, Mendell drained a trey right before the buzzer sounded to set the home faithful off.
"We had our defense out there at the end. I told them with four seconds to go and with them having no timeouts, that if they make a two-pointer, time was going to expire," Boresi said. "They were told to guard the three-point line and contest shots because it would be tough for them to score."
"We knew they had multiple three-point shooters ... it's hard to cover all of them," Peters said. "He hit a big shot and tied the game."
Shetina said that no matter what, it was something that could have been prevented.
"We had a little lapse on defense there," Shetina said. "At that point we knew that we were going to have to play another four minutes."
And then some.
"In that situation, you have to have a short memory and move on," Boresi said.
Shetina and Mendell scored the only baskets in the first overtime and the Coalers would go on to win the game in the second overtime despite making no field goals. Peters made two free throws, Shetina made three and Micetich added one more — but it was enough to get the win.
Shetina ended with night with 20 points, including making 7-of-8 free throws on the night.
"Every night it seems like we are playing in a close game and he (Shetina) is open to get the ball," Peters said. "He's getting to the line and knocking them down. It's nice to have someone knocking them down in the clutch like that."
Coal City is now 17-12 on the season and will play the No. 1 seeded Pontiac Indians on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
"We knew to win the regional that we'd have to take on the No. 1 seed," Peters said. "We might as well be playing them now."
"If we play our game, I feel that we have an advantage in the post against them," Boresi said. "We've gotten our first game out of the way now, and if we play better on defense and shoot free throws better, I think we'll be O.K."