STANFORD -- The last-second, last-gasp play was for Rockridge senior forward Ethan Happ to catch the home-run pass near the foul line, "take one bounce and lay it up."
All of that worked up until the last sequence.
"I had it in my hands," Happ said. "I let it go."
Trailing by one point with :03.6 left on Friday night, Happ out-jumped two players in the lane and caught the long pass before having it stripped from behind by a Bloomington Central Catholic defender. Top-ranked Rockridge could not retrieve the ball as the clock expired, cementing its 56-55 loss to the Saints in the Class 2A Olympia Sectional championship game.
"Other than losing a family member, it's one of the worst feelings in the world," Happ said with watering eyes in a quiet corridor. "There are so many things you can look back on, but it's going to be that last play. I had it in my hands. For it to be ripped away, it's awful."
The designed play was correctly executed, but the Central Catholic defender was able to poke the ball away before Happ could make a move.
"I'll take Ethan Happ in the lane one-on-one anytime," Rockridge coach Toby Whiteman said. "He had it in his hands. I thought the guy undercut him from behind. But I wasn't wearing the stripes."
Either way, the Rockets (28-1) had their dream season end -- at least in their eyes -- far too early.
"It stings," Whiteman said. "You can't take away the season, but it stings right now."
The ending obviously was painful, but what preceded adds to the agony.
Happ's layup with 2:35 left ended a personal 7-0 run, giving the Rockets a 51-47 lead. Central Catholic (24-6) missed two 3-pointers on its subsequent possession, but grabbed a second offensive rebound that led to a John Hester bucket that cut the lead in half with 2:02 left.
After the Rockets missed a shot, Central Catholic tied it with 1:47 remaining when Nick Norton buried two foul shots.
Working the clock for a final shot, Rockridge eventually turned the ball over when a pass near the baseline trickled out of bounds. The Saints capped a 5-0 run when Austin Holman split two foul shots with :57.9 remaining, giving them a 52-51 lead.
"I didn't think we played smart in the game with the lead," Whiteman said.
Facing the fury of the state's top-ranked team, the Saints stood tall.
"We've been in these situations before," Norton said. "All of our guys stepped up and made big plays at the end."
Norton snaked a steal on Rockridge's next possession, but turned the ball over at midcourt. Happ then gave the Rockets a 53-52 lead with 27 seconds left on a layup.
Eight seconds later, Norton hit an off-balance runner near the block that put the Saints up 54-53.
"I felt most comfortable attacking the basket," said Norton, whose father Randy is the former Davenport Assumption boys' head coach. "I just made a big shot."
After the Rockets missed a shot, Norton grabbed the defensive rebound, was fouled and hit two foul shots with :08.3 left. With six fouls and a 56-53 lead, the Saints elected to foul Bryan Heath before he attempted a 3-pointer from the right wing. Heath hit both, cutting the deficit to 56-55 before the Rockets fouled Holman with :04.3 remaining.
Holman missed the front-end of the bonus free throw, the rebound falling into Happ's hands before a timeout.
In the huddle, Happ helped design the play. With 29 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks up to that point, the Rockets obliged.
"He was playing like he was going to will us to a win," Whiteman said.
Central Catholic did not let that happen.
"This," Happ said, "will haunt me the rest of my life."
Today is Tuesday, Sept, 30, the 273rd day of 2014. There are 92 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: The ARGUS Boys are very anxious to attend the great Democratic mass meeting tomorrow and we shall therefore, print no paper on the day. 1889 — 125 years ago: H.J. Lowery resigned from his position as manager at the Harper House. 1914 — 100 years ago: Curtis & Simonson was the name of a new legal partnership formed by two younger members of the Rock Island County Bar. Hugh Cyrtis and Devore Simonson.. 1939 — 75 years ago: Harry Grell, deputy county clerk was named county recorder to fill the vacancy caused by a resignation. 1964 — 50 years ago: A new world wide reader insurance service program offering around the clock accident protection for Argus subscribers and their families is announced today. 1989 — 25 years ago: Tomato plant and other sensitive greenery may have had a hard time surviving overnight as temperatures neared the freezing point.