It was an incredibly thrilling way to win and an absolutely devastating, soul-crushing way to lose.
In short, it was everything a high-stakes high school basketball game should be and more.
Especially if you're looking at it from the perspective of Lauren Chambers and the Lebanon High girls' basketball team.
On the strength of senior guard Chambers' weight-of-the-world, tie-breaking free throw make with no time left on the clock, Lebanon survived - emphasis on "survived" - Cocalico, 43-42, in an epic District Three Class AAAA first-round contest at LHS on Tuesday night.
Seemingly headed to overtime and a potential end to their season after Cocalico's Marissa Gingrich nailed a game-tying corner 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, the sixth-seeded Cedars (20-5) are now bound for Friday's quarterfinal round opposite No. 3 Dover, a 46-38 first-round winner over Exeter. Game time is 5 p.m. at East Pennsboro.
And the Cedars are going there thanks to the opportunistic Chambers, who stole away the rebound of an errant Brittany Ulrich 3-point attempt from Emily White in the dying seconds, and was tripped — or fell, depending on your rooting allegiance — and fouled on the baseline as time expired.
Then, with all eyes in the gym on her and seasons and careers on the line, Chambers coolly stepped to the line and knocked down the free throw — the all-or-nothing front end of a 1-and-1, no less — before disappearing into a pack of jubilant teammates.
Was it a foul? Maybe, maybe not. Was it a great game? Yep.
"That was awesome," said a drained but thrilled Lebanon coach Ben Brewer, whose squad had taken two tight regular-season decisions from the Eagles. "Those are two great teams that unfortunately matched up in the first round. We knew it was gonna be one heck of a battle out there, and we needed a team effort. All seven of our players in the rotation needed to contribute and, if you look at the box score, they did."
"Somebody's gotta win and somebody's gotta lose, but this is why you play," said Cocalico coach Tony DiMatteo, classy in defeat. "The ups and the downs... They were up, we hit a big '3' to tie it. It was just an unfortunate break there at the end. I'm trying to call a timeout, I'm screaming there on the court, and (the officials) can't hear me. Then they call a foul. It's a tough way to lose."
The unfortunate whistle against the Eagles provided the opportunity of a lifetime for Chambers, one of five Lebanon seniors, and she did not waste it, hitting nothing but the net to give Lebanon its spot in the quarterfinals.
Suffice it to say, she was not overcome by the moment.
"All I'm thinking is, 'I wanna play Friday, I don't want my season to be over,'" Chambers said. "I just wanted to step up. I love that, I love those situations. I love to step up and make big plays like that."
It was a game filled with big plays and key contributions on both sides. Almost too many to mention, in fact.
Junior center Madison Rakow led Lebanon with 12 points, and role-playing unsung heroes Kiana Graves (eight points, all in the second half) and Alicia Haitos (four points, and a key steal in the final minute) each came up with huge efforts on a night when they were desperately needed.
Meanwhile for Cocalico, Gingrich was simply superb with a game-high 20 points, and White chipped in with 11 points, all in the first half as the Eagles (15-9) grabbed an early 7-3 lead before Lebanon battled back to claim a 20-18 halftime edge.
Five key points from Shaela Shellehamer late in the third gave the Cedars a 31-27 lead heading into the fourth, but with Gingrich leading the charge, Cocalico never wilted for a second, rallying from five down midway through the fourth to push the affair to the brink of OT.
There was no shortage of potential heroes. But only one who got to wear the tag in the end.
"Of any player to be in that situation, it's probably Lauren that I trust the most," Brewer said. "She's got no fear. She's doesn't get nervous. They could have called five timeouts (before the free throw) and it wouldn't have affected her. I had no doubt in my mind when she stepped up to that, she was gonna make it."
If Chambers had any doubts, and she sure didn't seem to, they were dissolved by the group hug that enveloped her after she sank the winning free throw. Which, by the way, not only gives Lebanon a quarterfinal date with Dover, but at least three more games and a shot at a state playoff berth since the Class AAAA bracket will qualify seven teams for states.
"It was amazing," Chambers said of the euphoria of victory. "It all pays off, all this hard work we've been doing. All this practice, all we've been working for... We want to play in the Giant Center more than anything. We don't want our season to stop."