LANARK – Robert DeVries carried Forreston to the brink of victory, and Aaron Shelton provided a final nudge.
Shelton’s free throw with 1.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter lifted the Cardinals to a 59-58 victory against Aquin on Friday in the finals of the Class 1A Eastland Sectional.
Next up for Forreston (25-5) is the DeKalb Supersectional, where it will meet St. Francis de Sales, which edged Luther North 64-62 at the Elgin Sectional. The supersectional game will be played Tuesday at the Convocation Center in DeKalb. The Cards last played at that level in 2011.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” first-year Forreston head coach Travis Ross said. “I’m so happy for them and the community. They deserve this. When you fall down like we did early, you’ve got to have composure, and our seniors really stepped up tonight.”
Shelton connected on the third of three free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining on the clock. The senior guard missed the first two, then swished the third, sending a large Forreston fan contingent into a frenzy.
“I thought I had the first, but after the first one missed, I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m in trouble now,’” Shelton said. “I kind of lost confidence in myself, but I was like, ‘I can do this.’ Then I missed the second one, and it was, ‘OK, I’ve still got one more.’
“I took a big breath and I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got this.’ I shot it, it went in, and it was the greatest feeling ever.”
Shelton got to the line after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt by the Bulldogs’ Krisean Coffee. There appeared to be minimal contact on the play, and Coffee felt there was none.
“I don’t feel that I got him,” Coffee said. “I just went up, turned around to box out, and the ref called it. That’s what lost it for us.”
Aquin (25-7) tried a version of a Hail Mary in the remaining time. Senior guard Aiden Chang went around some screens, went deep, and attempted to haul in a long pass from teammate Micah Stovall.
The pass was deflected by DeVries, however, and the remaining time ticked off the clock.
“I’ve never beaten Aquin,” DeVries said. “This was the first time I’ve beaten Aquin in my high school career. It just means so much to get that off my chest. That really drove me.”
It was fitting that DeVries made the final defensive stop, as he put the Cardinals on his back on the offensive side. He scored a season-high 33 points, including 15 in the final quarter to help Forreston overcome a deficit that was as many as six points (48-42) with 6:10 to play.
“I hate losing,” said DeVries, the quarterback on Forreston’s state championship football team this past fall. “I know people say that, but I mean that. It was me tonight, but all of my teammates could do the same thing. We’ve just got to keep working and get ready for the next game.”
DeVries scored his team’s first 15 points of the fourth quarter, and teammate Markus Edler added a 3-pointer with 41 seconds to play that put the Cardinals ahead 57-55.
Coffee scored a basket with 25 seconds to play to knot the score at 57, then the teams split free throws to make it 58-58 with 21 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Shelton’s game-winner.
Aquin (25-7), which won two close games against Forreston earlier this season, jumped out an 11-0 lead in the game’s first 3 minutes, and was still up eight points (21-13) on a pair of Aiden Chang free throws with 3:08 left in the second quarter.
Forreston went on a 13-6 run to close to within a point (27-26) at halftime, setting the stage for a tension-filled second half.
Shelton added 10 points for the Cardinals, and Edler scored nine. Wyatt Kerchner grabbed eight rebounds and scored five points.
Chang led the Bulldogs with 23 points, and he made all nine of his free throws. Coffee recorded a double-double with 18 points and 12 boards.