DOWNERS GROVE – The raucous celebration taking place at midcourt said as much as the stunned silence just a few feet away.
Karol Lipiszko drained a 3-pointer from the wing at the buzzer to lift Hinsdale South to a 44-41 win against Geneva in a Class 4A regional final at Downers Grove North on March 3.
Jack McDonald drove for a potential game-winning jumper with time winding down, but instead he was whistled for traveling with 3.5 seconds left. Two Hinsdale South timeouts and one pressure-packed shot later, Geneva’s magnificent season came to a close.
“That’s a play that Jack usually does,” Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. “He would have had a clean look if they didn’t make the travel call, though I think if he had gone to the basket he probably would have gotten fouled.
“Either way, it’s what we wanted to be set up, to have a play like that, and it just didn’t work out.”
Hinsdale South’s Nick Perry took Robert Barnes’ inbounds pass from under Geneva’s basket and got to halfcourt. With fouls to give, the Vikings (28-3) sent two players at Perry, but he dished to a wide-open Lipiszko, who launched his shot as Dom Navigato approached from the post in an attempt to block it.
“It certainly didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. We had two guys running at the ball trying to foul because we had fouls to give,” Ralston said. “We had two guys running at the ball and unfortunately it left a guy wide open in the corner.”
Trailing 36-31 entering the fourth quarter, Geneva went on a 9-2 run, grabbing a 37-36 lead on Mitch Mascari’s 3-pointer. Matt Johnston’s trey later put the Vikings ahead 40-38 with 4:03 left.
Navigato split a pair of free throws with 2:38 left that knotted the score at 41-41.
Navigato scored four of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Mascari led the way with 14 points, but scoring was otherwise a struggle for the Vikings. The 41 points were a season low, and it was only the fifth time all season that Geneva scored in the 40s.
“Our leading scorer [Cole Navigato] doesn’t get a lot of looks inside ... and not many clean looks for Dom, either,” Ralston said. “I thought if we didn’t get the effort we got out of Mitch we probably lose by 10. I don’t know.”
For a Vikings team that won 26 straight to start the season, it was a bitter end to an otherwise sweet season. They won three tournament titles and captured the Upstate Eight River title with an 11-1 mark. The only thing missing was postseason hardware.
“My heart goes out to these kids,” Ralston said. “It’s a shame that our résumé doesn’t have a regional plaque with it, but we were right there at the end and if things had worked out differently we would be cutting down the nets and taking home a plaque.”