Not even an ESPN highlight-worthy shot from three-quarters court can stop Grayslake Central.
The hottest team in Lake County cranked its thermostat a few degrees higher Friday night in surviving a wild and spirited atmosphere at a packed gym in Johnsburg.
The Rams could have gotten caught up, just like the crowd did, in the amazing spectacle that ended the third quarter. With just seconds remaining, Johnsburg center CJ Fiedorowicz picked up a loose ball while playing defense in the middle of the lane. He took one step forward, cocked his arm behind his head and heaved a baseball pass towards the Johnsburg basket at the other end of the court.
When the ball shot through the bottom of the net as the buzzer sounded, the crowd went crazy and the Skyhawks were suddenly trailing by only 2 points, after having been down by as many as 7 points just minutes before.
Hello momentum, hello new ball game.
But Grayslake Central stayed cool and calm and eventually got some big 3-pointers (albeit from normal distance, not Fiedorowicz distance) of its own to fall.
Senior forward Matt Murphy hit 2 clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help the Rams do what they've done every single time they've taken the floor since Jan. 7.
Grayslake Central disposed of Johnsburg, its fiercest Fox Valley Conference Fox Division rival, for the second time this season, 55-44 en route to its 11th straight victory.
The Rams, who have won 16 of their last 18 games and move to 17-6 overall, also stay unbeaten in the Fox Division, where they are a sparkling 10-0.
If Grayslake Central wins its two remaining division games against Woodstock and Woodstock North, it will record the first undefeated Fox Valley Conference championship in the program's history.
"That would be huge, really big," said Murphy, who was one of three Grayslake Central players to reach double figures. He had 10 points. "We're going to try to do it. This (Johnsburg) was (the biggest hurdle to clear).
"We just had to regain control of the gym after that shot (by Fiedorowicz). It was really loud in here. We had to regain our composure and we did that."
The Rams also compensated for Johnsburg's game plan, which was to take center Josh Rappaport out of the mix. Rappaport, who is averaging 18.3 points per game, rolled up 19 points against Johnsburg in the teams' previous meeting in January.
The Skyhawks, who drop to 20-2 overall and 7-2 in the Fox, clogged the lane with a zone defense and made life tough on Rappaport, who finished with 9 points.
But for Johnsburg, that news was tempered by the performances of Murphy as well several other perimeter players for Grayslake Central.
Senior guard Cameron Nelson led the Rams with 14 points while sophomore point guard Jordan Taylor added 11 points.
"We hit some big shots," Nelson said. "In practice, we worked on getting the ball into the low post and then kicking it back out when (the Johnsburg defense) collapsed on Josh. We were ready for that."
The Rams seemed ready for anything from the start.
They jumped on Johnsburg, which was already playing from behind due to the loss of star guard Mike Dixon (hip pointer), with a tough defense that forced 13 first-half turnovers.
Grayslake Central capitalized and led 24-16 at halftime.
"The main thing was, we played as a team," Taylor said. "And we didn't rush it. We played good defense and if they did score, we slowed down the pace of the game. We weren't trying to rush it. We just tried to keep the lead."
But a lackluster, 5-point third quarter by the Rams, and a key 3-pointer by Johnsburg's Tyler Chambers (12 points), not to mention Fiedorowicz's miracle shot, didn't leave much breathing room.
Grayslake Central entered the third quarter up only 29-27.
"I really didn't even throw the ball that hard on that shot," Fiedorowicz (game-high 18 points) said of his instant classic. "I kind of threw it like a shot put. I knew it was right on, but I never thought it would go in. That was insane.
"I thought we had a lot of momentum when we got that, but-I don't know."
Grayslake Central outscored Johnsburg 26-17 in the fourth quarter. Besides Murphy's threes, much of the damage came on free throws.
The Rams went 10-for-13 at the charity stripe over the final eight minutes.
"This is why you play and coach high school sports. What an awesome game," Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe said. "It was a great win for our kids.
"This (winning a game of this caliber on the road) says a lot about our kids. They showed a lot of toughness, a lot of maturity."