Cloquet's best shooter connected on a prayer and the team's shortest player found the tallest player with the assist of the game. That combination provided a 69-68 double-overtime victory over Hermantown in a Section 7AAA high school boys basketball semifinal before 2,117 fans at Duluth Denfeld on Wednesday night.
Dillon Johnson's 3-pointer at the end of regulation kept the Lumberjacks alive and Marquez Evans' pass to Adam Laine with 4 seconds to play in the second overtime clinched the win.
Cloquet (19-9), seeking an eighth state tournament berth and first since 2000, advances to play Grand Rapids, a 59-57 overtime winner over Chisago Lakes in the second semifinal, at 7 p.m. Friday at Denfeld. Hermantown finished 24-4.
Down 57-54 in the waning seconds of regulation, Cloquet got the ball into Johnson's hands. The team's top 3-point shooter never squared up and tossed up a prayer with Justin Brendon in his face.
"It was a terrible shot; we'd yell at him most times when he takes that shot," Cloquet coach Steve Battaglia said. "It was all we had, though, with time running out."
The ball hit the front rim and back rim before falling through at the buzzer.
"Everyone wanted me to shoot the 3," said Johnson, who scored 23 points and was 3-for-8 from long range. "I threw it up there, got two lucky bounces and it was amazing that it went in."
Laine was as surprised as anyone that the Lumberjacks got to OT.
"I didn't think it was going to go in at first, but then when he made it, I was overjoyed," Laine said.
Hermantown coach Mike Pothast thought his team played excellent defense on the shot.
"We told Justin that he couldn't play much better defense than he did," Pothast said. "It was just a good player hitting a big shot."
It was Kole Zuidmulder's turn to hit a big shot at the end of the first overtime as the Hawks' sophomore center followed a missed shot with a layup at the buzzer to tie the game at 63.
Cloquet starting guards Maxx Brenner and Nate Weets fouled out in a back-and-forth second extra session, meaning Evans was needed for emergency duty. After Kevin Folman's three-point play off a steal gave the Hawks a 66-65 lead, the Lumberjacks worked the ball inside to Laine to regain the lead with 16 seconds remaining.
Zach Goplin was fouled in transition, however, and made both free throws to put Hermantown ahead 68-67.
Then the 5-foot-5 Evans drove the lane and whizzed a pass between Zuidmulder's arms to an open Laine, and the 6-7 center put in the winning basket.
"He's made some unbelievable passes during the season," said Laine, who scored a game-high 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting. "We were feeling really bad that our two best point guards fouled out, but Marquez came in and helped us win."
Pothast has seen that before even though the Hawks won both regular-season meetings.
"That's what Marquez does best -- he breaks us down," Pothast said. "He's done it every game he's played against us."
Despite a season in which they set a school record for victories, went unbeaten at home and earned the school's first No. 1 playoff seed, the Hawks were inconsolable afterward.
"I'm an English teacher so you'd think I would have some poetic phrase," Pothast said. "But I just tried to remind them of all the great things they did this year."
GRAND RAPIDS 59, CHISAGO LAKES 57
Alex Illikainen, less than a week after receiving clearance to return from a broken bone in his left hand, scored 29 points to lead the Thunderhawks into the section finals for a sixth straight year.
Illikainen showed few ill effects from his three-week layoff, except for a stretch of tiredness late in the first half.
"To play 36 minutes, where he hasn't practiced more than twice in the last month, says something," Thunderhawks coach Dan Elhard said. "He was running on fumes at the end of the half and was calling for a sub, and I just ignored him."
Justin Gill hit a 3-pointer with 32 seconds to play in regulation to tie the game at 53 and send the Thunderhawks to their second straight overtime game in the playoffs.
Illikainen hit three free throws in overtime, A.J. Watland made a pair with 1:40 to play to give Grand Rapids a 58-57 lead and Evan Reitter hit a clinching free throw with 1.6 seconds to play.
A.J. Watland added 13 points for Grand Rapids, which is seeking a sixth straight berth in the state tournament.