Forget Xcel Energy Center, the Cooper High School gymnasium was the place to be Wednesday night.
Two rivals, each having defeated the other during the season, in an intense tug-of-war with a state tournament berth on the line. Madness, loudness, you-name-it-ness, Hopkins' 59-58 victory over Eden Prairie for the Class 4A, Section 6 championship was just about everything a basketball fan could ask for.
There were runs, terrific plays and heartbreaking blunders. And in the end, it was two free throws by Hopkins guard Vinnie Shahid with 1.3 seconds left in the game that gave the victory to Hopkins.
Shahid's big shots came after a crazy loose-ball scramble that took up nearly 10 seconds of precious end-of-the-game time. Shahid finally managed to corral the ball at the free-throw line and tried to get a shot off but was hacked by an octopus of Eden Prairie arms.
Ignoring the bedlam around him, the junior guard drained two free throws, sending the Royals to the state tournament for the sixth time in the past seven years.
"I've done that all my life in the gym," Shahid said. "One for the tie, one for the win. It was a lot of stress, but it feels good."
Eden Prairie led 56-49 with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left in a game that saw 12 lead changes. But Hopkins responded with an 8-2 run, six of the points coming from guard Ishmael El-Amin, cutting the lead to one point and setting up the wild finish. El-Amin finished with a game-high 17 points and Shahid added 10.
"It was a very physical game," Royals coach Ken Novak Jr. said. "But we fought hard and when you do that, sometimes the breaks go your way."
Eagles coach David Flom echoed that sentiment, saying: "We left it all out there. If the game was one minute shorter, it might be different. But they made a play when it counted."