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Lemont's Martynas Einikis (35) dribbles toward the basket as T.F. North's Nicholas Wood (15) defends. | Allen Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Joe Hehir had been down this pressure-filled road before for Lemont — not only in basketball but football.
In September, he converted a 27-yard field goal in the final seconds to give Lemont a 17-14 win over Oak Forest.
In February 2012, he buried a basket from the baseline with 13 seconds left to give Lemont a 58-57 win over Hillcrest. The victory secured the Indians’ first-ever piece of the South Suburban Blue crown.
And without Hehir’s heroics Friday night against T.F. North, it’s likely the Indians could have kissed their hopes of gaining a piece of the conference pie again goodbye.
After missing badly on his first free-throw attempt with 4.3 seconds remaining in a 50-all game, Hehir calmly stepped back to the line — after T.F. North called a timeout — took a deep breath, dribbled once and nailed the second attempt, giving Lemont a come-from-behind 51-50 win in Calumet City.
The victory improves the No. 7 Indians to 20-2 overall and, more important, 10-1 in conference. It keeps them within striking distance of undefeated Hillcrest in the Blue. The two square off Feb. 22 in Country Club Hills.
T.F. North fell to 17-7, 9-2.
“I think he was trying to ice me,” Hehir said of T.F. North coach Tim Bankston’s timeout strategy. “I knew I had it the whole time. I wasn’t nervous. Football helps me in everything I do, especially being a kicker and when the crowd is going nuts.”
Hehir’s clutch charity shot completed a thrilling Lemont comeback, one that saw it rally from a 28-19 halftime deficit.
Juozas Balciunas was a constant force all night for Lemont, finishing with 23 points and eight assists.
One of the biggest keys to the Indians second-half surge, however, was the play of Martynas Einikis. The senior forward scored all 10 of his points in the second half. It was Einikis’ bucket with 1:04 left in the third quarter that gave Lemont its first lead of the night at 36-35.
“We challenged Marty at halftime,” Lemont coach Rick Runaas said. “Shots he normally makes he wasn’t making in the first half. We told him, ‘We need you now more than ever.’ ”
T.F. North’s size and speed wreaked havoc on Lemont most of the first half. The inside presence of 6-foot-8 Marquis Todd and 6-6 Nick Wood (10 points) dominated the glass to the tune of a 15-9 rebounding edge. The duo combined for 14 points as the Meteors finished the second quarter on a 12-2 run to grab a nine-point lead at intermission.
Balciunas, for one, was confident the Indians would regroup the second half.
“We came into the locker room and we said to each other that we just need to play hard and don’t look at the score,” the senior point guard said. “We’ve been in this situation before and came out on top. Let’s do it again.”
That Lemont did, with a big assist from Hehir (12 points).
“Oh, I told him (Hehir) right away that I wasn’t worried,” Balciunas said. “Just go out there and make it like it’s any other free throw.”
Runaas was so confident in Hehir’s ability to come through he didn’t design a fallback plan during the timeout.
“We didn’t even talk about him missing it,” Runaas said. “I knew he was going to make it.”
D.J. Deere led T.F. North with 20 points.