CRYSTAL LAKE – For 72 seconds, the Cary-Grove boys basketball team allowed time to tick away, daring Crystal Lake South to foul while waiting for the most opportune time to set Jason Gregoire up for a game-winning shot.
But when Gregoire, the Trojans' sophomore guard, couldn't find space to get past South's Austin Rogers, C-G had to resort to Plan B. Then to Plan C.
And when the ball made its way into Steve Plazak's hands, he made sure he was ready.
Plazak connected Friday on a 15-foot jump shot with 3.1 seconds remaining to lift the Trojans to a 45-43 Fox Valley Conference Valley Division victory over the Gators on a night that started with no one on C-G's roster able to hit any shot — let alone a thrilling game-winner.
"It's a surreal thing – it's like one of those things you think about," said Plazak, who led C-G with 14 points. "It's like, 'Oh man, what if I hit that shot?' It's a great feeling."
No matter how many shots Plazak had hit in the second half, he clearly wasn't the top option when C-G (9-7 overall, 1-2 FVC Valley) started to burn the clock with the score tied at 43 and 1:12 remaining. South, which was in the bonus and wasn't willing to allow Gregoire to beat them, kept chasing.
Gregoire got the ball to Matt Motzel, who found Plazak open on the right wing for a shot South coach Matt LePage called "probably the shot of the year."
"He's so clutch," Gregoire said. "He's undoubtedly the leader of this team. He's a senior and he always steps up in the clutch moments. As soon as it left his hands, I just knew it would go in."
The finish for the Trojans was much better than the start after C-G missed 22 of its 26 first-half shots. Yet, despite C-G's shooting woes, South (5-9, 0-2) led by only nine at halftime. But that's when the Trojans turned the tables, using a pressure defense to take the Gators out of their comfort zone before starting to click on offense as well.
The Gators took a 29-27 lead into the fourth quarter on Rogers' 3-point field goal just before the buzzer, leading to a furious final eight minutes when the lead switched hands three times in the first 65 seconds.
Plazak gave C-G a six-point lead before Alex Bartusch hit a 3-pointer and Nick Geske converted on a 3-point play to get South to within 43-42 with 2:11 remaining. Max Meitzler – who scored 10 points to go along with Rogers' team-high 11 – split of pair of free throws to tie the score before Plazak's late heroics.
"You have to give them credit – they made big shots," LePage said. "This is a tough one, no doubt. But we've got to regroup."