NORMAL - The season has been spent with a plethora of both jubilation and devastation for the Normal Community High School basketball team when the final buzzer has sounded.
Friday night appeared to fit the script of the Ironmen's close-call season: a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
But this contest had one major rewrite.
In a season that has seen NCHS win six times by five points or less, the Ironmen finally ignited in the fourth quarter, outscoring Decatur MacArthur 17-6 over the final five minutes in a 63-47 Big 12 Conference victory on Senior Night.
It was NCHS' fifth win by seven or more points and its first double-digit victory since a 56-44 win over Kankakee on Jan. 7.
"We've had a lot of close games," said guard Craig Lutes, one of the team's five seniors. "It was close at halftime and it was close for a while, but we've played so many of them that I think we finally said, 'alright we've got to win one by double digits' and I think we've learned from those times they were so close that we knew what we had to do and did it."
They did it by completely shutting down the Generals when the game was on the line.
The lead dwindled to 46-43 following a basket from Kari Coleman with 7 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the contest.
The "here we go again" feeling began. Then, NCHS put its foot down.
The Ironmen (12-15, 5-7 in the Big 12) began a run that epitomized domination, scoring 16 of the game's final 20 points by limiting MacArthur to just 11 shots and two baskets on its final 13 possessions while forcing three turnovers.
"We were able to control the tempo and it was not (an) up-and-down game, and we made them play defense for 30 seconds and we got them to break down a little bit," NCHS coach Dave Witzig said.
While the Generals (6-14, 4-8) were lagging, NCHS was scoring.
Of the Ironmen's 14 fourth-quarter possessions, eight accumulated points as NCHS shot 58.3 percent (7 of 12) from the field.
"I think we stepped up on the defensive end tonight," said Lutes, who scored a game-high 16 points. "We slowed things down offensively and we were patient and we made sure we got stops. I kind of think our defense was our offense in the fourth quarter. We were able to slow them down and it let us pull away."
The slow-pace offense frustrated MacArthur.
"Normal executed and made some shots and we stopped making shots," MacArthur coach Bret Reedy said. "We didn't do a very good job of covering their screen action and they got the momentum and we hit a bad spell in the end."
The end was completely different than the beginning.
MacArthur opened the contest by hitting seven of its first 11 shots to grab a 17-13 lead after one quarter.
"We switched defenses after Lutes hit some shots and we were making shots," Reedy said. "When we're doing those things of course our kids are going to play with confidence."
Coleman led MacArthur with 16 points, while Stefon Carson and Rick Slaw each added 11. The Generals received points from only five players.
Sheldon Harper added 14 points for NCHS and Dan Frantz scored 10. The Ironmen bench outscored MacArthur's reserves, 23-11.
"I thought everyone who got in really contributed to our team and it was nice for our five seniors to go out with their last regular-season game here," Witzig said. "It was a great all-around win."
Since starting the season 6-14, the Ironmen have gone 7-1 and have won four consecutive games.
"It's hard to explain. We're starting to play well together," Lutes said.
"I can't even put my finger on it but there's obviously something there that we're figuring out and hopefully we can keep it going into regionals."