Brad Hammond has exactly one game winner in his basketball career.
The Benton senior could not have picked a better time for his first either.
Hammond came out of a time out with the Rangers trailing 53-51 and with under five seconds to play, pulled up just off the Benton bench and well beyond the 3-point line to bank in the shot and send Benton to Friday's IHSA 2A Regional title game at Carmi with a 54-53 win over the Bulldogs Wednesday night.
Hot Hands Hammond led the Rangers (26-7) in scoring in the semifinal game, putting up 18 points. Reece Johnson finished with 14 for Benton and Carson Lewis tacked on 13 points.
BCHS head coach Ron Winemiller said the designed play was executed to perfection -- almost.
"It was a shot for Brad. He had the hot hand tonight, he was the guy we had to go to," Winemiller said. Jake (Seidel) and PB (Peyton Bayless) did a great job getting him open and squared up and luckily he knocked it down. Not like we drew it up with the bank but it is what it is and we'll take it."
It's been a buzzer beating regional for Harrisburg (11-16) who mounted a comeback to overcome Eldorado Tuesday night. The magic ran out for the Bulldogs Wednesday, who despite trailing by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, battled back to take a lead with 2:48 in the fourth quarter after Michael Godsey got the deuce and abuse to give the Bulldogs a 47-44 advantage.
A bucket by Benton's Wyatt McClintock got the Rangers back to within one, but the Bulldogs quickly pushed the lead to four on two free throws by Godsey and one free throw by Will Gibbs.
Johnson stepped up for Benton down the stretch however, getting a basket with 50 seconds to play and got the Rangers to within one with a hoop and harm with 23.8 to play, making it 52-51 and ultimately setting up Benton and Hammond for the game winner.
As good as Hammond's shot was, it was Johnson's 3-point play in the paint that Harrisburg head coach Randy Smithpeters said was the back breaker for his Bulldogs.
"We're up four, we're okay being up two because we're going to inbound, we're going to make free throws, we're going to keep our lead. Hopefully our two possession lead or at least a three. That took us out of it where a one-point lead and you get fouled and it's just up three," Smithpeters said.
"We did a thousand things right tonight. I think we played well enough to win actually. I thought we took care of the ball. You go the last three or four minutes where we're having to handle the pressure and we handled the pressure. We had no turnovers there and we made great decisions on the offense. We even made good decisions on the defense. Even the last play, we didn't lose a man and get scored on. We didn't get beat on offensive rebounds. We defended well. We made Benton take a bad shot and it happened to go in so that's all you can do."
Harrisburg jumped out to a 6-2 lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Andrew Bittle and Gibbs, but Benton mounted a 12-0 run, holding Harrisburg scoreless for the next five minutes and closed out the first quarter up 18-8.
The Bulldogs outscored Benton 18-4 in the second quarter, highlighted by Gibbs' four-point play to end the quarter where the senior pulled up from the top of the key to drill his 3-pointer and tacked on there free throw to get the Bulldogs to within four at 26-22 at halftime.
Benton used an 8-0 run in the third to take a 12-point 36-24 lead on a Lewis 3-pointer, but Harrisburg closed out the quarter on a 8-0 run of their own to cut the lead to four at 36-32.
Winemiller and company already notched two wins over Harrisburg during the regular season, but the 11th year head coach knew he was going to get more than the kitchen sink thrown at him, taking on a Bulldog team for the third time.
"The last two games (Harrisburg) beat Herrin by 30, they beat their most bitter rival they possibly could. They're coming in playing with house money. They're rolling. We got up a little bit early, seven or eight, and we kind of had a chance to get some separation before the half and Gibbs got the big four-point play right there before the half that I thought kind of got their mojo back. Hats off to Coach Smithpeters and his kids, I thought they played super-hard and were playing like they wanted to play Friday night."
McClintock finished with four points for Benton, while Reid Baumgarte tacked on three points and Seidel tossed in two.
Harrisburg got a team-high 23 points from Godsey and another 12 from Hayes as both finished in double figures. Gibbs added eight for the Bulldogs, who got scoring contributions from Bittle (six points) and Darion Barners (four points).
Benton will now take on Fairfield in Friday night's title game, starting at 7 p.m. inside McDougal-Evers Gymnasium.
Benton 49, Hamilton County 35
On Tuesday night, Benton got a team-high 13 points from Lewis and another 11 points from Hammond in a 49-35 win over Hamilton County at the Carmi 2A Regional quarterfinals.
Johnson added eight points for the Rangers, while Siedel scored seven points. Blake Stewart and Baumgarte each finished with four points and McClintock had two points.
Gus Waldon scored a game-high 15 points for the Foxes, while Tyce Gordon scored seven points. Layton Karcher chipped in with six points, while Garrett Webb finished with five points and Brandon Peters tossed in two points.
Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois Local Media News Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.