This comes with the territory.
Union County, no stranger to close games at tournament time, was at it again Wednesday night. The Patriots survived again, this time a double-overtime thriller, fending off Lincoln 69-61 in the final opening-round game of Class 2A Sectional 41.
Hunter Miller knocked down two free throws early in the second overtime, Braden Norris followed with two of his own and the Patriots were on their way to a semifinal date with Eastern Hancock on Friday.
“Work the ball and be patient,” Miller said of the overtime strategy for the Patriots. “Poise. Poise, poise, poise, really.”
A little aggression on defense didn’t hurt, either.
Union County’s Bryce Fields made a steal and layup — then was fouled and swished the free throw — to cap a string of five straight points for the junior.
That gave the Patriots a 61-52 advantage — a lead Norris pushed into double digits with two more free throws with 1:06 to play.
“Bryce Fields had a big play for us there,” said UC coach Mark Detweiler. “Big, big play. That was probably the play of the game right there, just a good hustle play that we needed.
“I knew it was going to be that way. I knew Centerville wasn’t going to leave Northeastern without a fight (in Tuesday’s opener). I knew Lincoln wasn’t going to leave us without a fight. They put good shooters on the floor. They really do.”
Miller finished with game highs of 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Kory Finch scored 12, Brandon Himes added 11, Fields nine and Norris seven.
Ben Singer paced Lincoln with 19 points before fouling out in the second overtime. Trevor Gabbard scored 15 and Ian Bloom 11.
The Golden Eagles made nine 3-pointers — a big boost for them as Lincoln dug in and responded after the Patriots pulled ahead 20-8 after one quarter.
“I told our kids coming in here I believed we could win, and I think they believed we could win, too,” said Lincoln coach Rodney Klein. “I thought we really did some good things. We took some things away from them, too.
“When they made that run early, our kids just stayed with the game plan. Stayed solid, took care of the basketball, got good shots and played good defensively.”
UC took a 35-26 lead into halftime, though Lincoln cut that to 48-42 by the end of the third quarter.
Then came the fourth-quarter surge by the Golden Eagles.
Lincoln scored six straight to start the final frame, with a Singer free throw tying the game 48-all with 5:54 to play.
It was nip-and-tuck from there. Singer again tied the game, this time 52-52, with two more free throws with 2:50 left in regulation.
The score stayed that away until Miller’s charity stripe tosses in the second overtime.
“Union County is loaded with talent. When you have that many kids who can score and that many kids who can do things, you have to hope to have a little luck go your way,” Klein said. “A couple of bounces didn’t go our way, and it is what it is.
“I think we made some improvement over the year, and that’s what it’s all about.”
For Union County, that opening sectional game has been about tense play in recent years.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, no opening sectional game for the Patriots had been decided by six or fewer points since the 2006 tournament.
But, Union County has thrived in that environment. The Patriots have won the past two tournament titles and reached the championship game three consecutive seasons.
“It’s getting acclimated to the tournament, and those games serve you well, I think, especially in the tournament,” Detweiler said. “You have to make some plays, and hopefully, we get a little bit more comfortable.”
Northeastern (20-2) opens Friday’s semifinal round against Knightstown (12-8) at 6 p.m., followed by Union County (18-4 and Eastern Hancock (16-5).
The Royals edged the Patriots 78-74 in triple overtime on Feb. 15 in Charlottesville.
Eastern Hancock advanced Wednesday with a 68-55 win over host Hagerstown.
“We trusted our team defense and we stayed in front of guys,” Detweiler said. “We’ve been trying to get this group to do that a little bit, and be a little more disciplined on the defensive end. Hopefully we benefit from it.”