BUCYRUS - There's just something about tournament time.
It brings out the best in teams and players.
It creates memories and moments that will be talked about for years to come.
Joe Reile made one of those moments Tuesday night.
In a Division II sectional semifinal in Bucyrus, Reile's Upper Sandusky Rams were engaged in a classic against Shelby. The entire night, neither team could get much separation from the other, and overtime looked to be a very realistic possibility when Shelby's Grant Fenner knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner, knotting the game at 52 with 41 seconds to go.
But that was enough time for Reile to become a hero.
After a timeout, Upper Sandusky inbounded the ball with 15 seconds left. The Rams have three seniors - Reile, Trent Howard and Stuart Young - none of whom wanted Tuesday to be their final game. The ball went through each one, finally ending up in Reile's hands on the wing. With time ticking away, he tossed up a final shot.
"I was down by the basket when it went up," Howard said. "I saw it going straight for it, so I was like 'just get in, I don't want to go to overtime.'"
Howard got his wish.
The ball swished through the net and a herd of Ram students rushed the floor as Reile gave his team a memorable 55-52 victory.
"Coming out of the timeout, we drew a ball-screen-middle for Trent," Reile described as the final play. "Stu set the screen, I was rolling up from behind for the 3 if he didn't go to the basket, but Stu actually intercepted the pass, but my guy helped off when he penetrated. I got open on the backside behind him. I looked up at the clock when I caught the ball, had about three seconds. Took my dribble, let it go and it happened to go in."
"I challenged them in the locker room cause I was a little frustrated with some of the mistakes we were making," Upper Sandusky coach Shane Adams said. "I personally challenged Joe. We had no more time. He had a couple turnovers in the first half and I said 'We need to step up and be a leader right now. You got to step it [up] and we got to win this basketball game.' He got the shot at the end. He wanted the ball, Stu gave it to him. They're cousins. They work together, they've played since they were little kids. Kicked it out and he hit the shot."
Adams added that while Reile's shot will go down as the game-winner, it wouldn't have been possible without a number of factors leading up to it.
"You look at that shot and you overestimate that shot. It was everything up until then," he said. "Stu hitting shots, Carson getting rebounds, Trent making plays, Trent making passes, Trent hitting free throws, Cody Clifford coming in defending their shooters. It was just a team effort. That's what they got to understand. You can do great things when you play together."
The two teams played virtually even the entire night. Never did the lead get past four points for either team. Thirteen times the lead changed hands, with the game being tied another 13 times.
"It was close, we didn't want to get behind too much," Howard said. "We just kept fighting and kept sticking with them. We kept trading blows, but we got that last shot and that's what won it for us."
Upper Sandusky took a 36-34 lead into the fourth quarter, but as would be the case for the whole evening, it didn't hold up.
Two quick baskets from Andrew Baird and Fenner gave Shelby the lead back, but Howard answered with an And-1 play that shifted the advantage back to Upper Sandusky. Shelby never saw the lead again.
The Whippets did, however, draw even three more times, including Fenner's final 3-pointer. But each time, Upper Sandusky responded with points at the other end.
"How many times did we tie it up there late?" Shelby coach Troy Schwemley said after his team closed out its season at 12-10. "And it seemed like every time we tied it up, Upper scored the next possession. We never got a stop, and then were able to have the ball on our end in control of the game. It seemed like every time we tied it up, we let them score right away. That's where you got to come together and defend and get a stop. We just didn't get those big stops when we needed them."
Four Shelby players scored in double figures, led by Baird's 13. Fenner chipped in 12 while Austin Rohde and Tristan Kehres each added 10. Kehres also added a game-high nine rebounds.
The same two teams met in December at Upper Sandusky with Shelby claiming a 51-34 victory. But the Rams played that game without Young. Reile listed that, and his team's late foul shooting, as the difference the second time around.
"One, it helped we had Stuart back, he hit four huge 3s, but the big thing for us was the free throw line." he said. "Me and Trent only missed one down the stretch. Made (10 of 11 in the fourth quarter) That's huge when you get to the free throw line and knock them down. They hit a big shot but we just kept playing and got the win."
The three Ram seniors all scored in double figures, with Reile leading with 19, Howard scoring 16 and Young hitting four trifectas for 12.
"We just love playing with each other," Howard said. "We've been friends off the court since first grade. It's just a joy playing with them and I don't want it to stop."
And because of their efforts, it won't.
The Rams (13-10) advance to Friday's sectional final, where top-seeded Lexington awaits for a 6:15 p.m. game back in Bucyrus.