It was beautiful because it was so rare. How many people ever see a triple-overtime basketball game?
Mount Hebron and Wilde Lake both played so well, so evenly and with such intensity that each deserved to win.
The dramatic, 76-74 victory extended what has become a storybook season filled with cliffhanger victories for Mount Hebron, a team that was expected to finish last in the league but which clinched secondplace with Tuesday's win.
"It was incredible. I'd hate to have lost that game," said Mount Hebron's senior center Jim Zurad.
Zurad's long pass to teammate Dominic Devita led to Devita's game-winning basket with three seconds left in the third overtime. Nine of Zurad's 15 points in the game were scored during overtime periods.
It was a game of tit-for-tat. The teams tied the score 11 times, and after the first quarter, the biggest lead either achieved was four points.
If you're a Mount Hebron fan, it was a game you'd want to watch over and over.
The part you'd watch most often would be Phil Tonkins'three-point, buzzer-beating basket that tied the score at 56 and sent the game into the first overtime.
But you'd also rewind to watchWilde Lake miss three of five free throws in the final 37 seconds --one of them the front end of a one-and-one.
With 14 seconds left and leading, 54-53, Wilde Lake had an opportunity to make two shots following an intentional foul.
Wilde Lake's Andre Martin (nine points) made only the second of the shots. The 'Cats automatically retained possession because the foul was intentional.
Trailing by two points and with only nine seconds left, Mount Hebron was forced to foulagain to stop the clock.
Wilde Lake's leading scorer, George Bradford (23 points), went to the line with a chance to clinch the victory. He made the first free throw for a three-point lead.
Then MountHebron called time to ice him. It worked. He missed the second shot,and somehow Tonkins (21 points) quickly made the three-pointer amid much confusion.
In the first overtime, Mount Hebron led, 63-60, after Masai Demus (eight points) sank two free throws with 10 seconds left. Zurad scored the Vikings' other five points in that OT.
MountHebron beat Wilde Lake in a single overtime earlier this year and was poised for a replay.
But Wilde Lake's Deon "Neon" Wingfield (nine points) threw a desperation three-pointer from the top of the circle with two seconds left to make the score 70-70 and take the game to double overtime.
The tit-for-tat action continued.
The 'Cats' Bradford, who is averaging 20 points this season, led off the next period with two free throws. But Tonkins drove and scored.
Wilde Lake's center, Ira Crawley (15 points), converted a three-point play, butMount Hebron guard Tony Yanero (14 points) sank a three-pointer with1:20 left.
Wingfield sank two free throws. And Yanero scored inside.
A backcourt turnover by Wilde Lake with 30 seconds left gave the Vikings a chance to win, but they missed two shots in the final 16seconds.
With the score tied at 70, Tonkins appeared to have sunkanother sensational three-pointer. He leaped up and down for joy prematurely. His shot came a second too late. No basket. Now it was triple overtime.
The crowd and the players took another deep collective breath and tiptoed into the rarefied air of triple overtime.
Wilde Lake's Martin scored on a fast break for a 72-70 edge. Taronn Evans stole a pass, but the 'Cats failed to convert it into a basket.
Zurad sank two clutch free throws. Wingfield sank two free throws. Zurad banked in a layup with 40 seconds left, and the score was tied again, 74-74.
Wilde Lake missed two shots within 10 feet of the hoop, and Mount Hebron cleared the rebound to midcourt, where Zurad spotted Devita under the basket for the game-winner.
With three secondsleft, the Wildecats passed to midcourt and called time out. Two seconds remained. They failed to work their inbounds-pass play, so they called time again.
The suspense was numbing.
Wingfield finally took the inbounds pass and tossed up a 25-footer that bounced off the backboard and then the rim. No good.
Pandemonium erupted among Mount Hebron fans.
"I don't know how many more of these close games we can win," Zurad said.
The Vikings' league record improved to 10-3, and eight of those wins have been by five or fewer points.
The Wildecats' league mark fell to 7-6. They are 2-2 in the four league games that have been decided by fewer than five points.
The defeat meant that Wilde Lake lost the No. 2 seed for the Class 1A Region 2 Tournament that starts this week. Mount Hebron enters Class 2A of the Region 2 Tournament seeded No. 4.
Both teams play their first games of the tournament tomorrow. Their opponents had not been determinedat press time.