BOLINGBROOK - Now that's March Madness.
When Benet and Neuqua Valley met Thursday night in a semifinal of the Class 4A Bolingbrook regional, the Redwings needed nearly every second to pull out a 68-62, double overtime win.
"It was an unbelievable game," Benet head coach Gene Heidkamp said of a contest with two ties and two lead changes in the final 5:44 of regulation. "It was two teams playing as hard as they could play, and I can't say enough about both teams. I think there was a lot of character on the floor tonight.
"I don't want to sound corny or philosophical, but this is what March is all about. That was an unbelievable game. It goes almost beyond words."
With the win Benet moves on to face West Aurora for the sectional title at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Redwings (27-5) seemed set to breeze to another postseason win. After racing out to a big lead on Naperville Central in the regional championship game last Friday, they led 14-2 late in the first quarter and were up 19-5 after one.
Neuqua Valley (28-3) cut the deficit to 25-18 at halftime and 30-27 midway through the fourth quarter before forging the game's first tie at 36-36 with 1:52 left in the third. The Wildcats grabbed their first lead, 43-42, with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter on Pat Kenny's putback bucket.
Robert Haemmerle gave Benet a late 46-45 lead when he drove the baseline and hit a pull-up jumper with 45 seconds left. He also drained four free throws in the final 24.1 seconds.
"I got a drop-down from Sean O'Mara and I tried not to think about the shot," Haemmerle said. "I just took whatever they gave me. We did not want the season to end today, and I just did what I could to chip in here and there."
Benet needed everything from Haemmerle (15 points, eight rebounds) as Neuqua senior Jabari Sandifer (26 points) nailed a three-pointer with 6.5 seconds remaining to force a 50-50 tie that held until overtime.
The Redwings scored the first four points of overtime, but the Wildcats quickly clawed back and took a 57-54 lead with 1:05 remaining. Pat McInerney hit two free throws with 23.3 left to tie it at 58-58 and force a second OT.
O'Mara, who picked up his fourth foul with 1:20 remaining in the third but didn't pick up another one, scored nine of his team-high 26 points in overtime, five in the second OT. He split a pair of free throws with 2:04 left in the second OT to put the Redwings up for good at 61-60.
McInerney scored eight of his 18 in OT, including four from the free throw line in the final 1:04 to help salt away the win, though he may need to look at the game film to be sure.
"I was telling some of our guys I couldn't tell you anything about overtime," McInerney said. "All I know is that Rob (Haemmerle) had six points in a row for us, Sandifer hit a three, and everything else is just a blur. That's a game you're going to remember for the rest of your life."