Brandon McFarlin's rare start lasted all of a dozen seconds.
The memory of his only basket of the game will last his lifetime.
"The one game I don't play (a lot)," a smiling McFarlin said, "and that happens."
"That" for Wauconda's senior forward happened to be the game-winning layup that not only beat the buzzer but also Vernon Hills. Wauconda's dramatic, 52-50 win in Wednesday night's Class 3A regional semifinal at Vernon Hills lifted the seventh-seeded Bulldogs into Friday's 7:30 p.m. championship game against No. 2 Lakes, which was a 72-54 winner over No. 15 Grayslake Central in the evening's first semifinal.
The back-and-forth battle between Wauconda (14-14) and Vernon Hills (10-17) seemed appropriate after the teams split their two contests, the first of which went to overtime, in North Suburban Prairie Division action.
"They were hitting all the end-of-the-quarter shots (Wednesday night)," Wauconda coach Scott Luetschwager said of the 10th-seeded Cougars. "For us to be able to win the game on an end-of-the-quarter shot was huge. The last two games, (Vernon Hills) probably had at least 12 points off end-of-the-quarter shots."
McFarlin's finish was especially heroic since he barely played the entire night. Luetschwager started the 6-foot-2 athlete so he could win the jump ball, and McFarlin did, leading to Austin Swenson's layup just four seconds into the game. At the first stoppage, with just 12 seconds having ticked off the game clock, Kodey Thomas substituted in for McFarlin.
McFarlin, who typically plays a decent amount of minutes and has started before, barely saw the court again until just 2.4 seconds remained in a 50-50 tie. Wauconda called timeout before it was to inbound the ball under Vernon Hills' basket. The Bulldogs drew up a play to get a shot for Swenson (game-high 17 points) in the corner.
"(McFarlin) is a big body and I knew that he'd be able to get a solid screen on Austin's man," Luetschwager said. "I figured if (Vernon Hills) was going to slip it, then Brandon is big enough that he'd be able to catch (the ball) and finish through contact."
Dion Head, who played huge coming off the bench for Wauconda, was the trigger man. He looked and looked, before finding McFarlin in the lane.
"I set the screen to get (Swenson) open, but no one was there," McFarlin said. "Dion and I looked at each other. I just took a step up and the ball was right there."
McFarlin soared high and laid the ball in at the rim. He considered dunking -- which he can do, but has never done so in a game.
"My teammates have been getting on me about dunking," McFarlin said. "I was thinking about it, but I'd rather have the win."
Had McFarlin scored with more time on the clock, Vernon Hills might have answered. The Cougars got a 3-pointer from Robby Nardini with five seconds left in the first quarter to go up 11-8. Two free throws by the Cougars' Stephen Curry with no time on the clock knotted the score at 25-25 at halftime. Michael Mariella ended the third quarter with a 3 to give Vernon Hills a 40-37 advantage and cap a 12-0 run.
"We knew at the beginning of the season that Wauconda was a team that we always go down to the wire with," Curry said. "We always fight to the end, and we knew this game would be a really close game, too."
In the final game of his four-year varsity career, Curry led Vernon Hills with 14 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 blocked shot. Nardini and Mariella each finished with 12 points on four 3-pointers.
Curry plans to attend the University of Missouri, but he will not play basketball. He kept his emotions intact at game's end.
"It's a hard way to go out," Curry said. "I let it all out in the locker room."
Besides Swenson, Thomas (13 points) and Head (11) scored in double figures for Wauconda. Head added 5 assists and 7 rebounds.
"He's a great ballhandler. Great vision," Luetschwager said of the 6-1 junior. "He's able to take guys off the dribble, hit shots and find guys. He's going to be big for us next year."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.