High-school player says last goodbye to mother with game-winning shot overruled by officials

She was 33.

The next day at the regional final, Miguel's teammates tape purple crosses on their uniforms in honor of Madeline's favorite color. The Cougars are big underdogs to Wharton, and are down by two, 41-39, as the final, fateful seconds tick away.

7 … 6 … 5 …

Point guard Elijah Mays sprints down the court with the ball and penetrates into the lane.

4 … 3 …

He kicks it out to Miguel on the wing.

The kid who'd just said goodbye to his dying mother has the ball in his hands with hundreds of enemy fans screaming for him to miss.

3 … 2 … 1 …

As Miguel puts up the shot, the buzzer sounds and the ball beautifully arcs upward and makes a downward beeline toward the bottom of the basket.

"I knew it was going in," coach Billy Owens said.

And as it swishes through for the winning 3-pointer, the University fans and players go crazy. They are hugging and high-fiving. The perfect Hollywood ending to a sad Orlando tragedy.

If only this story ends right here.

If only the officials aren't conferring about what came first — the buzzer sounding or the ball leaving Miguel's hands. One official thinks the shot is good, but two others think it is a microsecond late.

Then comes the final call:

The shot is ruled no good.

And Miguel Rivera slumps down to his knees and begins convulsing and crying and trying to purge himself of all that sadness, pain and grief.

"We lost the game and the championship, but somehow that didn't matter to me anymore," Armbruster, the University principal, wrote in that e-mail to his staff. "I couldn't stop thinking about this young man and how much he had inspired me. I will never forget that moment in time when Miguel Rivera took the ball and put it in the net. For me, a hero was born in that moment. A quiet hero who wasn't looking for accolades, who simply wanted to make his mother proud."

He did.

You know he did.

In the official scorebook, there will be no written record this 3-pointer was taken, but it doesn't matter.

Madeline had the best seat in the house, and she saw it.

She saw her son make one of the greatest life-and-death shots in the history of basketball.

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

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