By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- Sam Douglas was worried. The 6-foot-2 Quincy Notre Dame senior guard lost track of Minonk Fieldcrest's Nick Panzica on Friday's final possession.
Panzica drifted to the far corner as his teammate Brady Sanders, who scored a game-high 15 points, penetrated into the lane. Sanders kicked to Panzica, who released a shot with nearly two seconds remaining.
The ball rattled out as the buzzer sounded, allowing the Raiders to escape with a 46-44 win in the semifinals of the State Farm Holiday Classic semifinals at Illinois Wesleyan's Shirk Center.
"It was my guy, so it was a little bit of a heart attack when that thing went up," Douglas said. "Especially when it decided to come down and popped back up. It was probably the biggest relief of a game I've played in when that thing popped out."
Top-seed QND (13-1) will make its second consecutive final appearance -- and the sixth in school history -- when it plays second-seeded Rockford Lutheran at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Shirk Center. Lutheran beat third-seeded Chicago Providence St. Mel 59-58.
Fieldcrest (10-2) gave the Raiders fits with its methodical offense. A Cole Klendworth layup late in the first quarter allowed the Knights to take a 7-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, and Fieldcrest led 16-11 at halftime.
The Raiders were 5 of 14 from the field in the first half and 0 of 5 from the 3-point line. QND finished 12 of 25 from the free-throw line for the game.
The slower game never allowed the Raiders to develop a rhythm.
"We were struggling in the fact we had to be as patient as we were," QND coach Scott Douglas said. "I don't think we were as patient as we needed to be. We were struggling to find something that worked. You have those games where that goes like that. When we'd do something good, we missed a free throw or foul."
Confidence and patience were the Knights' strong suit in the first half. After QND's Matt McPherson swatted Fieldcrest's first two shots out of bounds, Panzica buried a 3-pointer for the first basket of the game.
"We're not afraid of anybody," Knights coach Matt Winkler said. "We came out and attacked them, and their defense was stifling at times. It's tough when you have a 6-foot-9 center swatting shots away. It makes you change your shot every now and again."
Fieldcreset led until Tony Stella tied it at 30 on a layup with seven minutes left in the game. Sanders made two free throws to push Fieldcrest's lead to 32-30, but the Raiders went on a 10-0 run and went ahead 40-32 on a 3-pointer from Sam Douglas with nearly five minutes remaining.
McPherson caught the ball too far underneath the basket and passed to Fitch, who immediately rotated the ball to Sam Douglas. McPherson, Fitch and Sam Douglas all finished with 11 points.
"I got myself too far under the basket to make it, and it was a tight-game situation," McPherson said. "I didn't feel comfortable shooting it, and I kicked it to Fitch wide. Sam did a great job of getting into position to make the three."
Fitch vigorously pumped his arm after Douglas' shot went in, releasing some of his emotion. He picked up his fourth foul with 2:14 left in the third, less than a minute after reaching the 1,000-point plateau on a turnaround jumper.
His frustration was apparent as he went to the bench.
"Sometimes I think the calls were getting to both teams a little bit," Fitch said. "You saw it with a technical (on Fieldcrest), and I think we fouled out of frustration a little bit."
Fieldcrest didn't go away after QND's run. Drew Barth made a long 3-pointer with 47 seconds left to cut the lead to 45-42 and after two missed free throws by Chris Dietrich, Kyle Crowley made a basket to slice QND's lead to 45-44. Fitch was intentionally fouled and made 1 of 2 from the line, setting up the final possession.