CRYSTAL LAKE — Shannon Ellman knew that no matter how much time was left, her only job was to get to the basket and into position.
So as the final 8.3 seconds of Monday night's 4A girls basketball regional quarterfinal started to tick away, the Crystal Lake Central junior sprinted the length of the floor and waited. And when Sara McConnell's 3-point attempt grazed the rim and fell into Ellman's hands, she just reacted, not even knowing if time remained.
Ellman's putback beat the buzzer and, in turn, McHenry, in a dramatic 43-41 victory that pushed the Tigers into Wednesday's 6 p.m. semifinal against No 1-seeded Cary-Grove at Crystal Lake South High School.
Central (13-14) needed the last-second heroics despite leading by seven points with under 2 minutes to play. And after struggling for much of the night to break McHenry's full-court press and overcome some nagging free-throw shooting woes, the Tigers finally managed to finish on the game's final sequence after McHenry's Brittany Avonts tied the score at 41 with just more than 8 seconds left in regulation.
"I knew we had to get the shot up," said Ellman, who scored 10 points to go along with Paige Dowell's team-high 12. "I knew (the ball) was going to be there and I just took it and I shot it."
After Avonts' short spin move and basket, McHenry (13-17) went to its familiar trapping style of defense. That's when McConnell broke down the floor, caught the in-bounds pass and pulled up for the game-winning shot.
"I told (McConnell), that's the shot I would have told you to take," Central coach Paul Lichtenheld said. "It's not what we drew (up), but the right thing about the shot was that there were 4-ish seconds on the clock and that's how you get an offensive rebound."
McHenry – led by Avonts' 13 points – remained in the game despite being outscored 14-3 in the third quarter. The Warriors led by five at halftime, but were again plagued by a low-scoring 8-minute stretch, allowing Central to regain the lead. Carly Mattison's 3-point field goal with 1:06 remaining drew McHenry to within 41-39, setting up a frantic final 60 seconds.
The Warriors missed a 3-point field goal that would have given them a 1-point lead, but then managed to remain within a basket when McConnell missed two free throws with 21.7 seconds left. But after drawing even, McHenry couldn't get the final stop it needed.
"Honestly, I thought we did well on the last play," McHenry coach Scott Morris said. "We got them to shoot a long 3 from a non-shooter and we just couldn't get the offensive rebound."