This improbable story got its favorable ending.
Doral Academy guard Kobbie Perez converted four consecutive free throws in the final 12.9 seconds to hold off a furious Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee comeback to earn a 43-38 victory for the school’s first Class 7A boys’ state basketball championship at the RP Funding Center on Saturday.
The Firebirds (30-2) completed their historic season with a 21-game winning streak, while holding 20 of their challengers during the run to 45 points or fewer.
The 38 points by the Indians (27-3) was their season low. Only twice had they been held below 60 in their previous 29 games this season.
“It’s been a great ride,” Doral coach Jorge Fernandez said. “We might not be the most talented team, but we’ll play hard and play it the right way. That’s why we were here.”
Jonathan Nunez scored 14 points and Miguel Ayesa 11 to lead the Firebirds.
“They had a good game plan and did a good job playing defense,” Choctawhatchee coach Andy Thigpen said. “They run good sets, good screens and are a disciplined team.”
Doral had built a 13-point lead late in the third quarter at 34-21. Ayesa keyed a 13-0 run with a pair of three-point baskets. He added another key three-pointer with 1:25 to play after the Indians had closed the deficit to within three with 2:38 to play.
“I got some space and even though I had missed some shots, I’m also confident in my shots” Ayesa said. “I shot it and knew it would go in.”
Choctawhatchee guard Diante Smith sank a three-pointer to inch closer to the Doral lead at 39-38 with 0:21 left.
Following a pair of free throws by Kobbie Perez, Smith’s attempt to tie the score on a three-pointer rimmed out
“I had a great look,” Smith said. “I thought the ball was going in.”
Perez sank the final two free throws of his high school career and sealed the state championship for Doral.
“Unbelievable,” Fernandez said. “What this team has accomplished in the last seven wins. We beat some quality teams, especially the last five games.
“It wasn’t pretty, and some people say we’re not the most talented team. That stuff doesn’t matter. It was about finding a way to win.”
In the first 10 years after the school opened in 1999, there was no gym to practice or play home games. No winning tradition with schools such as Miami Norland, Carol City and Dillard as road blocks through the regional.
Though the Firebirds had an undefeated 2016-17 season for their first district title, they lost in the regional semifinals to district nemesis Norland.
That’s now forgotten.
“The banner in our gym will be there next year, five years, 20 years,” Ayesa said.” We’ll always be remembered as the first to win a state championship at our school. That’s a memory for a lifetime.”
DA (30-2): R. Perez 2-3-8, Nunez 5-3-14, K. Perez 1-5-7, Ayesa 4-0-11, Mercado 1-0-3. C (27-3): Williams 2-1-6, Jackson 1-4-6, Smith 5-0-12, Jones 0-1-1, Cain-Fuller 1-0-2, Mattews 0-2-2, Scott 3-2-9. Three-pointers: Ayesa 3, R. Perez, Nunez, Mercado, Smith 2, Scott, Williams. Half: DA 19-16.