BURLINGTON – Pat Mayfield treats his free throws in practice like the game depends on whether or not he makes them.
Moments before, Johnsburg star guard Zach Toussaint dished a dynamite pass underneath to Joey Comstock to take the one point lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.
Mayfield, already with 12 points in the fourth quarter, nearly lost the handle on a dump pass from Braden Seyller out of the following inbound pass. Corralling it, Mayfield drove toward the basket and forced contact into a host of Skyhawks.
His practice moments suddenly became real with 2.5 seconds left.
The 6-foot-5 Burlington Central guard, amid stunning pressure, sunk both and blasted the Rockets to an improbable 72-71 victory on Friday.
The win kept Johnsburg (15-11, 8-3) from clinching at least a share of the KRC title. Burlington Central (19-8, 7-2) can win the conference title outright by winning its three remaining KRC games.
"In the gym, I always pretend like there's one second left or something," Mayfield said. "And, I always have to knock those two [practice] free throws down or I do conditioning right after that."
"Obviously, [tonight] it's louder and in the [practice] gym, it's silent. I thought it too: It's just like the gym," Mayfield said. "You do these all the time; knock both of them down easy."
An ensuing devastating turnover by Johnsburg sunk its chances of exacting revenge.
Toussaint dominated the first half en route to 22 points and finished with 32 points and three rebounds. Mayfield countered with 27 points and five rebounds.
The Rockets trailed by four heading into the final frame.
Toussaint knocked in an ankle-breaking 3-pointer and layup to inch the Skyhawks ahead 57-50 with 6:40 remaining. Roughly three minutes later, Seyller edged in a tough layup and sunk an open 3-pointer out of an inbound pass to tie it at 61.
Seyller had 13 points and four rebounds, while Jake Lenschow had 10 points.
The Rockets and Skyhawks traded leads and Mayfield knocked in another 3 to go- ahead 69-67 with 1:31 remaining.
After two Johnsburg misses, Rockets guard Logan Andersen made 1-of-2 free throws; Toussaint's drive and score with a minute left pulled the Skyhawks within one at 70-69.
Mayfield's backcourt violation preceded Johnsburg's go-ahead shot, but he more than made up for his mistake with regionals rapidly approaching.
"We haven't had a game like that this year where we were down in the second half by double digits [and] came back and won," Rockets coach Brett Porto said. "So, It's nice now to put that in your back pocket."
Jonathan Preston finished with 12 points, while Comstock had eight for the Skyhawks.
While visibly gutted with the shocking loss postgame, Toussaint held his head high amid difficult circumstances.
"No team has ever won a conference championship at Johnsburg, so going into the game we knew that if we won it, we'd win the conference championship or at least a share of it," Toussaint said. "I wanted it so bad. So, now got a game tomorrow...hopefully get back tomorrow."