The situation was bleak for Plainfield North early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers' leading scorer, Trevor Stumpe, had been on the bench with foul trouble most of the game and Neuqua Valley had built a comfortable lead. But Plainfield North roared back and won on a last-second shot, stunning the Wildcats 48-46 in a Class 4A West Aurora regional semifinal.
After winding down the clock with the score tied at 46-46, Plainfield North could only muster a tough three-point attempt by Brandon Smeets. The shot didn't draw iron, but Jake Nowak made the play of the game. He leaped without going out of bounds and passed under the basket to center Cody Conway, who laid it in just before the buzzer.
"Jake made a great effort to get the ball, and he just threw it right in my hands and I put it up," said Conway.
While that sequence was dramatic, the North comeback was even more impressive. The Tigers, seeded No. 11 in the East Aurora sectional, were down 43-30 with five minutes remaining. And Stumpe, a 24 points-per-game scorer, had played only 12 minutes of the first three periods and scored four points.
"There have been a few times when Trevor's fouled out and we've had to play without him, so that gave us confidence," said Plainfield North coach Robert Krahulik. "Our defense kept us in it, because our offense was horrible for three quarters. And Trevor's had a 41-point game this season, so we know he can get hot."
The tide turned completely, starting when Stumpe converted a three-point play on a reverse layup with 4:22 remaining. Following a Smeets steal, Conway hit a free throw, Nowak drained a three-pointer, and Stumpe hit a trey of his own. All of a sudden, Plainfield North was within 43-40 with 2:38 left.
The Tigers (21-7) weren't done. Stumpe head-faked into a 15-footer, added two free throws, and Nowak sank two more to cap a 16-0 run and give the Tigers a 46-43 lead.
"After sitting on the bench for so long in a game this important, I was really amped up to get in there and help the team," said Stumpe, a junior. The young Tigers start four juniors and have only two seniors on the roster.
Elijah Robertson tied the game for the Wildcats with a trey following an inside-out pass from Connor Raridon. That set the stage for the deciding final 50 seconds.
Robertson was superb in a losing effort. He led seventh-seeded Neuqua (20-9) with 13 points, and he had three emphatic blocked shots in the final 10 minutes that gave his team energy. Zach Incaudo had 11 points, but reliable scorer Raridon missed all nine shots from the field and finished with two points.
"We made a lot of poor passing decisions, and we forgot to guard and gave them some open looks," said Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton.
As for Stumpe, he had a game-high 18 points with 14 coming in the final seven minutes. Conway had 12 points and nine boards for the Tigers, while Nowak had all 11 points in the second half, including three field goals from beyond the arc.
The Tigers will take on host West Aurora in the regional final Friday.