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John Taylor found himself on the bench with five fouls.
Brandon Richardson found himself on the bench in pain.
Jordan Wolf found himself jumping off the bench and utilizing the unlikely opportunity to play hero for the Heritage boys basketball team.
Wolf, in place of an injured Richardson, stepped to the free throw line, made two free throws to snap a tie with 29 seconds left in overtime and help the host Hawks hold on for a 56-53 victory against non conference foe Fisher on Jan. 29. Heritage tried to get the ball inside to Richardson on the left block in the final minute of overtime, but Fisher senior forward Carmien was whistled for a foul with 29 seconds left. On the play, Richardson went down in a heap, spraining an ankle.
“It seems like he turns that thing every three days,” Heritage head coach Andy Place said. “When you play without letting it heal all the way, it’s prime to go again. He’s just had trouble with it all year.”
With Richardson having to be helped off the court, Place summoned Wolf from the bench to shoot the two free throws. The sophomore guard made both attempts, giving Heritage a 55-53 lead it would not relinquish.
“When he got injured, I was thinking, ‘Am I going to come in and shoot these free throws?’” Wolf said. “All I was thinking was making the free throws and get back on defense.”
The Hawks continued their winning ways last Friday, posting a 62-49 win at Arcola in Little Okaw Valley Conference action. Heritage (13-11, 4-2 LOVC) was scheduled to host Bement on Tuesday night, but results were not available at press time. The Hawks get back in action this Friday at home against Tri-County, with the junior varsity set to tip at 6:15 p.m. followed by the varsity at 7:45 p.m. Against the Bunnies — who are the fifth seed in the Class 1A regional the Hawks, who garnered the third seed, will host starting Feb. 18 — Heritage had trouble establishing a rhythm against Fisher (3-19), with Taylor, a senior forward who dealt dealing with foul trouble most of the game, fouling out with less than three minutes left in overtime. Richardson helped carry the scoring load, finishing with a game-high 17 points, but it was Wolf who came through clutch. The sophomore guard finished with 10 points off the bench, none more than critical than his free throws late in the game.
“That’s kind of been our case all year,” Place said. “I know a lot of people always talk about John because he is a threat to score at all times, but to be honest with you, we’ve had kids all year long in certain situations step up and make plays or make shots when maybe that’s really not their calling. They’ve made them when it has counted.”
Place wants to put his squad through nearly every scenario that could possibly transpire during games at practice. But even he said he couldn’t plan for a situation that saw Wolf coming in cold off the bench to take free throws intended for Richardson.
“No matter what, some things are bound to happen in a game that we haven’t practiced,” Place said with a laugh. “He came in and made some big shots.”
So did sophomore guard Chance Lemmon and senior forward D.J. Robertson. Fisher led 40-35 with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter before Lemmon (five points) drained the game’s only 3-pointer from the right wing. That basket cut Heritage’s deficit to 40-38, and Robertson (six points, five rebounds, three steals and three assists) tied the game at 42 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter on an offensive rebound putback.
Heritage went ahead 44-42 after Richardson made two free throws with 40.2 seconds left, but Fisher tied the game at 44 after a 12-foot running floater by sophomore guard Grant Pointer (game-high 18 points) with 17 seconds remaining. Taylor’s 18-foot jump shot from the left wing was blocked by Carmien (10 points) with 2.5 seconds remaining to force overtime.
“We had opportunities,” Fisher head coach Ron Ragle said. “We had three plays set up after timeouts that we didn’t execute and they ended up in turnovers. Kind of the story of the way the season has gone. The kids kept battling. They worked hard to get in a position to win.”
Heritage took a 49-46 lead with 2:53 left in overtime after a layup by Wolf, but Fisher tied the game at 51 with 1:30 left after a traditional three-point play by senior guard Nick Thomas (nine points), and the game was tied at 53 after two free throws by Pointer before Wolf showed poise at the free throw line.
Even with Wolf’s free throws, the Hawks couldn’t relax until the buzzer sounded. With Heritage nursing its 55-53 lead, Fisher had a chance to tie or win the game. But Fisher junior guard Kyle Williams committed a turnover with 5.9 seconds left. He threw a pass ahead to what he thought was a teammate in the Bunnies’ black uniform, but it was one of the three officials instead.
“The ref was cutting to the hoop and I saw it out of the corner of my eye, so I threw it,” a dejected Williams said. “We played hard enough to win. Obviously I take the blame for the loss. There was one guy (trailing the play), and I figured if I went, he’d follow.”
Ragle didn’t blame Williams for the loss.
“I thought we did a lot of nice things,” Ragle said. “They did, too. We missed a lot of layups and looks at the basket. You knock those down, you win the game.”
Place said it was unfortunate the closing seconds produced a turnover of that nature.
“I’ve seen (Fisher) play a couple times,” Place said. “Williams is a heck of a player, and we knew he could make plays. You hate to see the game end that way with just a fluke play.”
Heritage senior guard Austin Dickey was fouled on the subsequent inbounds pass and made his first free throw with 4.7 seconds left to give Heritage a 56-53 lead. He missed the second one, but Fisher could not get a shot up before time expired as Heritage rallied from a 21-14 halftime deficit to earn the hard-fought win by increasing the tempo that gave the Hawks a 32-28 lead to start the fourth quarter.
Fisher had a stellar game shooting the ball (22-of-39 for 56 percent, which included an 0-for-1 showing from 3-point range) but struggled with turnovers and finished with 24. Heritage turned the ball over 17 times and shot 19-of-49 (39 percent) from the field, including a dismal 1-of-14 (7 percent) from 3-point range, but nearly doubled Fisher’s points at the foul line (17-of-26 for 65 percent compared to 9-of-16 at a 56 percent for the Bunnies).
“We can be choppy at times,” Place said. “We’ve emphasized that, and we’ve tried to get that done. We have trouble scoring (at times), and (playing fast) can give us opportunities to score. With that being said, we don’t always move the ball well, but luckily, we did at times in the second half.”
Notes: Taylor was one of three Hawks to finish in double figures during the win against Arcola. Richardson added 14 points, Wolf contributed 13 points and Lemmon sank three 3-pointers en route to nine points for Heritage, which led 12-9 at the end of the first quarter, 33-16 at halftime and 43-29 to start the fourth quarter.
— After Friday’s game against Tri-County, the Hawks will travel to play at 7:45 p.m. next Tuesday at Villa Grove before the regular season ends at 7:45 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15, at home against Shiloh.
— The Hawks open the postseason on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Heritage will play No. 6 Urbana University High at 8 p.m. in a regional quarterfinal game. A win against the Illineks advances the Hawks into a regional semifinal game at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, against either No. 2 Judah Christian or Nor. 7 Armstrong-Potomac. Those two teams meet at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19.
Villa Grove, the fourth seed, meets Fisher at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 18, in a regional quarterfinal game to kick off the regional. Cissna Park will play either Villa Grove or Fisher at 6 p.m. in a regional semifinal game on Feb. 20. The regional championship game is at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 22.