OREGON – The Rockford Lutheran girls basketball team hadn't lost a Big Northern West game since 2009, a span of 29 conference games.
That streak is now over, thanks to the Oregon Hawks and Emy Wright's off-balance, acrobatic circus shot in the final seconds Tuesday night in the Oregon High School gym that led the Hawks to a 58-55 victory.
There are so many superlatives available in the English language, yet so few people in attendance could describe what they saw on Wright's three-point play that gave Oregon a 56-55 lead with 3.9 seconds remaining. The 5-foot-5 sophomore dribbled down the lane, launched herself toward the basket and got fouled. As she was in the air getting bumped, Wright – whose body was at about a 105-degree angle to the basket – reached behind her and flipped up a shot.
As Wright tumbled to the court, the ball bounced softly off the rim and fell in, breaking a short near-silence in the gym with the thundering approval of the Oregon fans and the gaping astonishment of the Lutheran crowd.
"I don't know how to describe it; I don't even know how I got the shot off or if I could make it again," said a giggling Wright, who led the Hawks with 21 points, seven rebounds and seven steals. "I was going to the basket, and I ended up at this weird angle. I just tried to push through the shot like it was a layup, just get it up on the rim.
"I didn't know it went in until I hit the floor; I saw it bounce up off the rim and go through the net, then the crowd got really loud."
The shot tied the game at 55 and capped a comeback from a 49-42 deficit with 5 minutes to play, a spurt that Wright herself kicked off with a 3-pointer from the left wing.
As tough as it was for Wright to describe what happened, nobody else in the gym could offer up an adjective without shaking their head.
"It was amazing, shocking, just … wow," said Oregon senior forward Devyn Absher (10 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block), whose putback with 1:19 to go tied the score at 53-all before Rachel Konieczki's two free throws 27 seconds later gave Lutheran the lead again. "It was what we needed, and she came through big-time."
"That was like a SportsCenter highlight," supplied Oregon coach Kristy Eckardt. "Emmy's so athletic and so strong, she can get in the air and get a shot off in traffic – she showed all of that in that one huge shot."
"She's a phenomenal player who made a phenomenal play when her team needed it," Rockford Lutheran coach Joni Carlson said. "That was a great shot at the end, and hats off to her and to Oregon."
Wright's ability to take a deep breath and calm her adrenaline rush enough to hit the ensuing free throw that gave Oregon its first lead since late in the third quarter was just as impressive.
"I knew it was for the lead, but we shoot pressure free throws at practice all the time," Wright said. "It felt just as great to hit that as it did when the shot went in."
The final 3.9 seconds took much longer. Oregon called a timeout following the free throw, then Lutheran's inbounds pass pinballed between Oregon's Bree Tourtillott and Lutheran's Sam Rundblade. It appeared to go off Rundblade's leg and out of bounds, but the Crusaders (6-1, 1-1) were awarded possession.
That inbounds pass from the sideline appeared to sail over everyone's head and out of bounds on the baseline, but Lutheran was again awarded the ball when officials said Oregon (5-2, 2-0) tipped it … with 3 seconds still remaining.
The inbounds pass went to 6-foot-1 freshman Abby Woollacott (17 points, 18 rebounds, 6 blocks) in the lane, and she was fouled. But she missed both free throws – the second on her second lane violation of the night – and Wright, who was fouled after taking the in-bounds pass for the Hawks, canned two more free throws with 0.4 seconds left. Lutheran missed nine of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter.
"It felt like we had nine lives there at the end," Carlson said. "I don't know how we kept getting chances, but we didn't capitalize at the end and Oregon did. We didn't do what we needed to win; it shouldn't have even come down to the last seconds."
"It seemed like a lifetime," Eckardt added, "and I even said something to my assistant coaches about, 'How long can 3 seconds take?' But we did a great job stepping up and stopping them over and over."
The Hawks' pressure got to Lutheran early, forcing 16 first-half turnovers and giving Oregon a 27-24 halftime lead. But the Crusaders, who scored the final four points of the first half, kept the momentum in the third quarter, thanks to their perimeter shots finally falling. After going 1-for-10 from 3-point range before the break, Lutheran hit 5 of their 7 in the second half.
The last two 3s came from Sam Rundblade (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Konieczki (13 points, 7 assists, 2 steals) on back-to-back possession to open the fourth quarter and give Lutheran a 47-40 lead with 6:15 to play. Two free throws by Sam Lambrigtsen and a Woollacott putback made it 49-42 Crusaders at the 5-minute mark.
Wright's clutch play at the end overshadowed the return of Lambrigtsen, who missed the first six games for undisclosed reasons. But her presence was felt, even beyond her 10 points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds.
"We were all just excited to have her out there tonight," Wright said. "We're full-strength now, and now we know what we're capable of when we all play together and play our game and never stop believing in ourselves and fighting until the very end."
Oregon 58, Rockford Lutheran 55
Star of the game: Emy Wright, Oregon, 21 points, 7 rebounds, 7 steals, game-winning three-point play with 3.9 seconds left
Key performers: Sam Lambrigtsen, Oregon, 10 points, 4 assists 4 steals; Abby Woollacott, Lutheran, 17 points, 18 rebounds, 6 blocks; Rachel Konieczki, Lutheran, 13 points, 7 assists, 2 steals; Sam Rundblade, Lutheran, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Up next: Oregon at Mendota, 7:15 p.m. Saturday