EDGINGTON -- Up by nine points early in the fourth quarter Wednesday evening, the Kewanee boys' basketball team seemed prepared to punch its ticket to the Class 2A Rockridge Regional finals.
Instead, the Orion Chargers rewrote the ending of Wednesday's second semifinal contest, rallying to force overtime on a Tyler Nelson bucket with 15 seconds remaining. Nelson then figured in Dylan Schultz's winning bucket as time expired in OT that gave the third-seeded Chargers a 55-53 victory over the No. 2 Boilermakers.
"Give all the credit to 'T-Nelly' for a great pass,'' said Schultz, whose bucket on a backdoor cut capped the senior guard's 19-point night and sent Orion (18-12) into Friday's 7:30 p.m. regional championship game against the top-seeded Rockridge Rockets (22-4), who opened Wednesday with a 75-36 romp over Mercer County.
"This was a great team effort. We knew we could come together, and we never got down on ourselves. We'll celebrate this tonight, then have a great practice on Thursday with Rockridge on our minds. We've got to focus on them now.''
In addition to the game-tying bucket in regulation and the game-winning assist in overtime, Nelson seconded Schultz in the scoring column with 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Fellow post player Dakota Grant also stepped up with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.
After Kewanee (22-5) took a 40-31 lead early in the fourth quarter, not only did Nelson and Schultz step up with key buckets, but so did teammate Adam Killion. The senior guard scored seven of his nine points in the final period, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 44-44 with 2:51 left in regulation.
"Adam gave us some great ball-handling down the stretch,'' said Orion coach Brent Hutton. "I'm proud of my kids. They got down, but they battled back. This has to be the way we play a very good Rockridge team at home (Friday night).''
Even with senior standout Dayton Ince having the hot hand for the Boilermakers, draining five 3-pointers and finishing with a game-high 22 points, Kewanee found itself dogged by Orion throughout. Down 11-10 after one, the Boilers saw Dalton Nuding score half of his 12 points in the second quarter to go up 24-16 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Chargers used a three-point play, a 3-pointer and two free throws by Schultz to close the gap to 29-28. Kewanee then finished the period with an 11-3 run, but couldn't get the double-digit lead it needed down the stretch.
"When we got it to nine, we had a chance to push it into double figures,'' said Kewanee coach Steve Salisbury, who also got 10 points and eight rebounds from Donovan Oliver. "But we made a couple of turnovers that gave them life. Orion is a good club, and they took advantage of that.''
Rockridge 75, Mercer County 36:Rockridge junior forward Ethan Happ quickly set the tone in the semifinal opener. He knocked down his first five shots to help the Rockets take a 20-6 lead after the first quarter.
Happ scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the first half as Rockridge built a 42-17 halftime lead. The 6-foot-7 standout also snared 14 rebounds and added five blocked shots. Teammates T.J. Henry and Bryan Heath added 13 and 11 points, respectively.
"We like to bring the defensive intensity, and turn it into offense,'' said Happ. "That really worked tonight. Mercer County is a tough team, a good team, and we didn't come in here taking them lightly.''
Even with Tanner Matlick posting 10 points and nine rebounds, the Golden Eagles (19-10) couldn't gain any ground in the second half as Rockridge used six third-quarter points by Heath to take a 58-28 lead into the final period.
"Our kids know it's that time of year where it's go-time,'' said Rockridge coach Toby Whiteman. "They've got to come out and really go after it.''