The game that will go in the history books as the first postseason win for Metea Valley will be remembered at Geneva as the upset that got away.
Leading the No. 3 seeded Mustangs by four points with a little over two minutes remaining, No. 14 Geneva watched Metea Valley make all the big plays down the stretch to outscore the Vikings 9-2 for a 45-42 nail-biting victory.
The Mustangs (23-4) advance to the Class 4A Metea Valley regional championship game Friday night against the winner of Wednesday night's semifinal between No. 6 Benet and No. 11 Bolingbrook.
"We were the higher seed, we were expected to win this game, but we didn't come out to play today," said Ryan Solomon, the only Mustang in double figures with 13 points. "It was scary to be in that position but we are going to be in that position later on in the playoffs so I guess that was good to get that over with now."
Geneva (15-13) took Metea Valley's leading scorer Kenny Obendorf (8 points) out of the game with its box-and-1, and the Mustangs resorted to launching 3s much of the night finishing 4 of 28 beyond the arc.
But trailing 40-36 with 2:31 remaining after Connor Chapman split free throws, Metea Valley drove its next two possessions and drew fouls both times. Lashawn Cargo and Solomon hit all 4 of the free throws to tie the game at 40, and Metea also fouled out Chapman in the process.
Ben Rogers found a cutting Phil Lorenz for what would have been a go-ahead lay-in for Geneva, but Metea Valley challenged and forced a miss and Lorenz fouled Tresean Mackey on the rebound. Mackey made both free throws to put the Mustangs ahead 42-40 lead with 1:27 left.
Down 42-40 and 43-41, Geneva twice got to the line with a chance to tie in the final minute. First Ryan Willing and then Mark Becker made their first attempt and missed the second to leave Geneva a point behind, Becker's miss coming with 22 seconds to go.
After nearly turning the ball over, Metea Valley called its last timeout. The Mustangs executed a perfect inbounds play for Milan Bojanic's wide-open layup with 11 seconds left for a 45-42 lead.
Geneva needed a 3-pointer for a tie but the Mustangs took away Geneva's first option of Mike Trimble's corner 3. The ball wound up back in Lorenz's hands as the clock approached zero, and his desperation shot under heavy pressure was blocked by Obendorf.
The Mustangs let out a big sigh of relief winning a see-saw game with 13 ties or lead changes.
"It's playoff time, I don't know if they understand," Metea Valley coach Bob Vozza said. "They look at the numbers next to the seeds but we tried to stress Geneva has played with great teams all year, beat some really good teams so we need to be ready for it. We found a way to get it done at the end."
It was a gut-wrenching defeat for Geneva who hit just 8 of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter while Metea Valley sank 9 of 11.
"It's a tough loss," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "It's a really good group of kids who did everything you can ask of them and things just don't go your way at the end. I think we were a little jittery (at the line) but our kids played amazing defense tonight."
Geneva held Metea Valley to 26 percent shooting from the field (13 of 50) and stayed even on the boards at 27-27. But the Vikings had seven more turnovers which combined with the free-throw struggles was ultimately the difference.
Shooting in the high 60s at the line this year, Geneva couldn't make them when it needed. After going ahead 37-36 on two free throws by Brendan Leahy, the Vikings were just 5 of 11 including a missed front end of a 1-and-1 when they had a chance to build a bigger cushion.
"We've had games we struggled a little bit but I don't think any of the games have come to bite us like this one," said Rogers who along with Lorenz provided most of the defense on Obendorf. "Obviously playing in their gym, their student section, you'd like to think it doesn't have an impact but it does."
The first three quarters featured one wild sequence after another that had both fan bases in a frenzy. In the second quarter, Trimble stole the ball and had a breakaway but missed a dunk.
Willing immediately again came up with a steal and this time he converted to get the two points on the board for Geneva. Trimble then rejected a Mustang shot to temporarily quiet the Metea Valley student section razzing him for the dunk.
Geneva struggled at the start of the first three quarters, turning the ball over on its first two possessions of the game, first two trips of the second quarter and first three possessions of the third quarter.
Despite those slow starts the Vikings always steadied themselves and got back into the game with defense and running their sets that led to several open backdoor cuts and high-percentage shots. Metea Valley outscored Geneva 12-11 in the first quarter; the Vikings won the second 12-11 for a 23-23 halftime tie.
"We told them at halftime you keep this game to 46 points or less you can win and unfortunately my pep talk did not come to fruition," Ralston said. "I just feel bad for our boys. They are hurting and rightly so. Sometimes when you reach for a game and feel you have a chance at it hurts to not get there all the way."
Cargo opened the second half with a 3 and the Mustangs built a 28-23 lead but again Geneva got back into the game. Another Willing take-away he had 5 steals in the game led to Drew White's lay-in and a 32-32 tie after three quarters.
Leahy led Geneva with 11 points. Chapman scored 8 and Becker gave the Vikings a lift off the bench with 7 including 6 in the first half.
Rogers was one of eight seniors on the Geneva roster joining Jay Kafer, Becker, Lorenz, Willing, John Swiderski and White.
"I don't think we were supposed to amount to much at the beginning of the season," Rogers said. "That was the public opinion I know but it wasn't our opinion. We lived up to our expectations. We'd have loved to get this one, that was our goal, but it was a positive season."