A few more pages remain to be written in Plantation American Heritage’s basketball lore this season. This chapter, though, had more suspense than anyone in black and gold would have preferred.
Leading host Eustis by 16 just before halftime, the Patriots saw their lead slowly chipped away to two — plus a missed dunk that would have tied the game — before finally punching their ticket back to the state tournament with a 52-47 triumph.
“Nothing’s easy, is it?” Heritage coach Charlie Stephenson said as his team and a 100 or so supporters exhaled deeply after earning a third consecutive berth in the Class 5A semifinals next week in Lakeland.
Not for the Patriots (25-7), whose path to the regional crown kept them on the road after losing the district final to Cardinal Gibbons. Heritage avenged that loss Tuesday with a 62-59 win on Gibbons’ floor, then faced a 4 1/2-hour drive to Orlando’s far north suburbs.
“Everybody talks about going to states, but it’s a process,” Stephenson said. “We’ve come on the road three games now and won each of our games.
“Each of the last two years, we’ve been beaten by senior-laden teams. Now this year we’re the senior-laden team, and I think that’s the reason we won this game. Our seniors just don’t want to go home.”
However, they did have to find a way to win amid some sloppy ballhandling against Eustis’ pressure defense and off nights by twins Jason and Justin Massey and point guard Keyshawn Evans.
They did, however, combine for the Patriots’ final nine points as they staved off the Panthers’ furious rally.
“It was all about buckling down and just finishing the game out strong,” said Evans, who drained four free throws in the final 18 seconds to seal the outcome. “We’re just happy getting the W, not having our best games.”
Hunter Osceola led the Patriots with 13 points, Evans finished with 11 and Drake Lamont tallied 10.
Heritage led 19-10 after the first quarter and opened a 28-12 advantage when Jason Massey popped in a free-throw line jumper with 4:50 left in the second. But the Patriots scored just three points the rest of the half and stayed cold in the third.
After an Osceola three-pointer on Heritage’s second possession after halftime, the Patriots went scoreless for more than five minutes as Eustis closed within four. They led 38-33 with a quarter remaining but couldn’t shake their doldrums.
“I think [Eustis] just outhustled us,” Stephenson said. “As much as I hate to admit it, they did.”
Another cold spell allowed Eustis to pull within 46-42 when Coy Patterson drove the lane with 3:23 left. That’s how it stayed for nearly two minutes, until Antwon Clayton’s putback cut the gap to two.
Clayton then swooped into the passing lane on Heritage’s next trip down the floor, feeding Kiron Williams on the fast break. But Williams violently clanged his dunk attempt of the back of the rim, ending with a battle for the rebound that gave the Patriots possession out of bounds with 1:26 left.
Twenty seconds later, Jason Massey got loose underneath for a slam of his own, and when Eustis missed on its ensuing possession Heritage could finally spread the floor and force the Panthers to foul.
The Patriots’ next step in their quest for a first state basketball title comes Friday, facing the winner of Saturday’s regional final between Panama City Rutherford and Jacksonville Bishop Kenny.
“We’ve been to Lakeland two times, and we’ve lost both times,” Evans said. “So really it’s all about getting that last one for our seniors so they can go out as state champs.”
•Region 3-8A final: John I. Leonard 80, Coral Springs 69:
In a battle of teams making improbable deep runs in the playoffs, visiting Coral Springs attempted to extend its magical season against host John I. Leonard.
Trailing by as many as 22 midway in the third quarter, Coral Springs rallied behind the dominating inside offense of 6-3 sophomore forward Myron Dewar, who scored 20 points, with 14 coming in the second half. The Colts trailed by five late in the fourth.
The comeback attempt fell short, however, as the Lancers pulled away to eliminate the Colts in front of a spirited crowd equally made up of supporters from both teams at John I. Leonard.
The Colts, under first-year coach Devin Barta, ended their season at 20-7, and the Lancers (17-10) advanced to the state final four in Lakeland against the St. Petersburg-Winter Park winner this weekend. Both Coral Springs and John I. Leonard were coming off sub .500 records last season.
The Lancers took it to the Colts in the fast-paced, end-to-end matchup, leading 41-26 at halftime with both teams employing man-to-man defense. The Colts were plagued by poor free-throw shooting in the first half, making 8 of 16 attempts.
Early in the third, JIL’s Mario Saunders, who finished with a game-high 25 points, hit a three-pointer to give the Lancers their biggest lead of the game at 54-32.
That’s when the Colts went to their full-court pressure defense and didn’t let up the rest of the game. Springs answered with a 10-1 run to come to within 55-44 with 42 secondsleft in the third quarter. Guard Garven Charles (19 points before fouling out with six minutes left) and Jeff Altidort (10 points) sparked the spurt with three-point plays.
Lancers guards Mario Saunders (game-high 25 points) and Remone Birch (21 points) combined to score seven points down the stretch and beat the Colts’ press to extend the Lancer’s lead.
Jonato Fils scored 20 points and led the Colts with 12 rebounds.
•Region 4-6A final: Norland 55, Pembroke Pines Charter 43:
Pines Charter mounted its toughest playoff challenge yet to two-time defending Class 6A state champion Miami Norland, but it wasn’t enough to derail the Vikings from a third consecutive trip to Lakeland.
The Vikings’ frontcourt tandem of 6-10 Dewann Huell and 6-9 Tyrell Williams had their way inside, and star guard Zach Johnson unleashed a nine-point explosion to end the third quarter as the Vikings pulled away for a victory.
Johnson’s scoring blitz, inside a standing-room only Archbishop McCarthy gym, turned a 35-32 Norland (25-5) lead with 1:57 left in the third quarter into a 44-32 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, all but sealing the Jaguars’ third consecutive playoff loss to its nemesis.
“We played a great game in the first half, but those back-to-back-to-back buckets by Zach changed the momentum,” said Jaguars 6-5 star swingman Haanif Cheatham, who finished with 16 points. “We tried to get it back, but it wasn’t enough time. We were a lot more competitive and showed more heart than last season, but it wasn’t the outcome we wanted.”
The Jaguars (18-6) hung around through three quarters but ultimately had no answer for Huell and Williams — Norland’s twin towers.
Huell finished with 15 points, highlighted by four consecutive dunks in the third quarter, and 13 rebounds, and Williams added eight points, 10 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
It was somewhat surprising the Jaguars had pulled to within three points late in the third quarter given the lack of scoring beyond Cheatham. Dimitri Harper finished with nine points and Marcel Denbow added six points for the Jaguars, who had tough sledding against the Vikings’ stingy defense.
Johnson (19 points), on the other hand, came up with the pivotal offensive surge for the Vikings.
After Harper banked in a shot to cut the lead to 35-32 with 1:57 left in the third quarter, Johnson went on a personal 9-0 run, highlighted by a two-handed breakaway dunk that to push the lead to 40-32 and then an 18-foot fadeaway on the left baseline to beat the third-quarter buzzer and extend the Norland lead to 44-32.
•Region 4-8A final: South Miami 70, McArthur 60:
It had been a long time, decades in fact, since a huge sporting event had taken place at McArthur High School in Hollywood.
McArthur faithful were hoping the glass slipper just might fit and it would be off to Lakeland.
But the Mustangs and their fans found out that the Cobras, a team that played in the state championship game a year ago, would be a little too tough as South Miami used its big-game experience to win a tough road contest.
Instead, it will be the Cobras moving on to the state final four where they will face Orlando Evans in a state semifinal Friday.
For McArthur, competing in only its second regional final in the 56-year history of the school and first since Lyndon B. Johnson was president (1967), it was a disappointing end to a magical run that included a pair of home overtime wins over Miami High and Miami Beach in the regional playoffs.
“An excellent season for my boys, I can’t be more proud of them,” said second year McArthur coach Warren Gayle, whose team finished 21-7 and will return all starters next season.
Even when South Miami built on its 35-31 halftime lead to lead 48-39 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Mustangs battled back.
Led by Derric Jean, who enjoyed a huge night with 28 points, McArthur went on a 13-2 run to grab a 52-50 lead one minute into the fourth quarter.
But led by Marquise Clark (32 points) and Joey Lopez (21 points, 12 rebounds), South Miami maintained its poise and returned McArthur’s run with a 9-0 run of its own to regain control of the game.