A sure shot and a dodged bullet. That was how Lincoln North Star advanced in the District A-4 tournament Saturday night in a 68-66 win over Class A No. 8 Millard South.
The Navigators got a game-high 28 points from Logan Cale but had to sweat out a pair of attempts in the last 15 seconds, including a potential game-winner at the buzzer.
The victory puts North Star into Monday's 7 p.m. district final against No. 3 Papillion-La Vista — and one win away from the state tournament.
"I'm very excited for our players," Navigators coach Tony Quattrocchi said, "but they came into the district tournament to win it. We're only halfway there. I know we've got a significant challenge Monday, but you've got to get the first one to get the second one."
Quattrocchi's team did so behind a combined 45 points from Cale and backcourt mate Triston Simpson. Cale was 10 of 16 from the floor, including three 3-pointers.
Both took turns controlling the game for North Star before the two combined to go 9 of 10 from the foul line in the final 75 seconds.
The only miss in that stretch — the second of two shots by Cale with 18 seconds to play — left the door open for the Patriots.
Millard South pushed the ball upcourt, had an attempt in the lane and another from the deep right wing — both by Noah Dartmann — that were off.
It brought an end to a comeback attempt by the Patriots, who trailed by as many as 11 late in the first half.
"We made a few mental mistakes," Millard South coach Tim Leuschen said. "They battled hard to come back, really proud of that effort. We just came up short on the basketball end tonight."
Both coaches pointed to a key stretch at the end of the third quarter that swung things back toward North Star.
With Millard South cutting the gap to four in the closing seconds, it appeared as if that margin would get cut in half with an open lane to an easy layup.
But the shot was blocked, and Cale dribbled down to the other end, calmly burying a 3-pointer as the horn sounded.
"He was determined to get off that shot," Quattrocchi said. "That's his mindset. He's a scorer. Logan gets in rhythm (and) he's an exceptionally good shooter. That was probably big swing. As it turned out that 3 may have been what won the game for us even though it was the end of the third quarter and not the end of the game."
Cale then started the fourth quarter with another from 3-point range, turning what could have been a two-point game into a double-digit lead.
But Millard South would chip away, closing to one on a Dartmann 3-pointer with 19.2 seconds left. Calvin Rudolph scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth-quarter comeback effort.
Quattrocchi said there was no celebration in the North Star locker room Saturday night. The job wouldn't be complete until a ticket to the state tournament is punched.
"This is just halfway," he said.