Nick Lobley called it the biggest shot of his life in what was easily the biggest quarter of the season.
A surprising Solomon Schechter had put first-seeded Portledge on its heels, all but shutting down the best player in the league in Terence Simpson and at one point staking a six-point third-quarter lead. With a spot in the IPPSAL boys basketball final on the line, Lobley passed the ball up the key and set a pick in the right corner, leaving him wide open for the high-arching three-pointer that gave the Panthers the lead for good.
Lobley's shot gave the Panthers a two-point advantage with 6:16 to play, helping to ignite a 17-0 fourth quarter run and the eventual 69-56 win Tuesday night at Portledge. The Panthers go on to host the winner of Martin De Poress/Waldorf tomorrow night in the final.
"Nick is a senior and he has hit that shot game after game for three years," coach Nick Woll said. "We want him to take that shot every time."
It couldn't have come at a better time for Portledge (15-0, 20-4), which switched to a feverish full-court press after fourth-seeded Solomon Schechter kicked off the third on a 11-3 run.
"We really tried to mix it up," said Zach Pilson (18 points). "It's always hard to beat a team three times, and we were getting nervous in the second half."
Utilizing its own high-pressure defense -- a swarming box-and-one that limited Simpson to seven points in the first half -- Schechter (8-6, 10-8) was able to keep pace with a team that defeated it by margins of 12 and 17, the latter with Simpson scoring 33 points.
"I'm used to it," said Simpson, who was guarded primarily by Max Solasz in an energized and exhausting display. "Coach tells me to go to the low block. I'd rather we play 3-on-4 and have there be open shots. I'll make the sacrifice."
Not that Simpson didn't do his damage. He scored 17 points, going 7-for-9 from the line, and adding 15 rebounds. Lobley had a game-high 21, while Jacob Katz led Schechter with 18.
"In the beginning of the season, we pressed a lot of teams," Lobley said. "We backed off toward the end, because you can't press everyone all the time. But we were feeling the pressure early."
As it turned out, the answer was pressing right back.