MAPLE PARK – By the time he knew the shot went down, Dylan Vaca had fallen on his backside on the other side of half court.
After releasing his 3-point attempt early in the second quarter, the Kaneland sophomore guard was fouled by Glenbard South's Connor Willis, and the contact sent Vaca stumbling backward, depriving him of the visual image of watching his shot bounce off the rim and fall through.
It was that kind of charmed night for Vaca, who completed a pair of four-point plays Tuesday as top-seeded Kaneland withstood a legitimate challenge from the fourth-seeded Raiders for an 81-70 win in an IHSA Class 3A Kaneland Regional semifinal.
"I was knocked off balance, and I kept trying to find my balance, and I just couldn't get it until I was back on [the other] side of the court," Vaca said of his second quarter shot. "I didn't even see it go in. I just kind of fell down on the other side and I heard everybody cheer, so I guess it fell."
While less theatrical, Vaca's second four-point play came at an even more dramatic time. Kaneland trailed, 56-54, early in the fourth quarter when Vaca gave the Knights the lead for good with another 3-pointer, plus the foul.
Vaca, who missed much of the season with a wrist injury, scored 20 points off the bench for the Knights (17-9). He added a slashing three-point play with 1:59 to play in the fourth quarter that gave the Knights their first double-digit lead, 68-58.
"This was a game Dylan really needed, and we needed it from him," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said. "He's been a little discouraged, just coming back from that wrist injury. He played really well, and he hit big shots when we needed them."
Drew David (22 points), Ryan David (16) and John Pruett (15) also helped the Knights prevail in the high-scoring affair as Kaneland earned a spot in Friday's regional final against the winner of tonight's semifinal between St. Francis and Marmion.
Feeding off the momentum of Vaca's second four-point play, Kaneland outscored Glenbard South, 29-16, in the fourth quarter. Drew David followed with a 3-pointer to make it 61-56 Kaneland, and a Pruett put-back moments later increased the margin to seven as the Knights began to pull away.
Drew David notched nine points in the fourth quarter, making all four of his free throws.
Kaneland led, 37-35, after a fast-paced and physical first half in which explosive Raiders senior point guard Chaun Rickette scored 17 points. Rickette finished with a game-high 30 points for the Raiders (16-12).
"He may be a little guy but he's got a big heart, and he can certainly figure out ways to put the basketball in the basket," Glenbard South coach Wade Hardtke said. "He's been doing it for us all year this year, and tonight's no different."
Johnson was visibly displeased with Kaneland's defense on multiple occasions, and suggested sharper play at that end will be required for the Knights to last much longer this postseason.
"It's the end of the year but we're still trying to get better," Johnson said. "If you want to compete at a high level, you've got to do certain things the right way. We'll get better tomorrow [in practice]. I'm just happy the boys have a chance to play in a regional final."
Whether the Knights collectively have another four-point play in them the rest of the postseason remains to be seen. So two in one night from Vaca?
"I don't think I've ever seen – well, I know I've never seen two of them in one night," Hardtke said. "I guess what do you say to that?"