Westminster Academy won plenty of pressure-packed games this season, including an overtime thriller this week that put the Lions in the state final for the first time since 2002.
But their inability to find the answer in the closing minutes against Windermere Prep on Thursday night cost them a chance to duplicate the ending of that championship season 14 years ago.
Following a three-pointer by freshman Chase Johnston that drew Westminster even with 2:31 left, the Lions were outscored 8-0 and watched Windermere Prep snare the Class 3A state championship with a 62-58 win at The Lakeland Center.
Johnston broke the run by hitting a jumper with 10.9 seconds left, followed by a steal and a score by sophomore Zach Scott. But with 4.4 seconds left, the deficit proved too much.
“I thought it was one of those games where anyone that gets a little momentum there late in the fourth was going to put away the game,” Westminster Academy coach Ehren Wallhoff said. “We’d make a play and they’d make a play and then their kid hit a three-pointer and that seemed to put us a little too far behind.”
Westminster Academy (23-7) matched Windermere Prep (25-5) point for point throughout the majority of the game until the closing stretch. The lead changed 16 times in the game and was tied 10 times including the conclusion of the first and second quarters.
After Johnston’s three-pointer, Parker Davis gave the Lakers the lead for good at 57-54. Johnston missed on a three on the ensuing possession and Windermere picked up the rebound, drawing a foul quickly. The Lakers’ David Nickelberry and Davis each hit a pair of free throws to put the game away.
A major difference in the game was Windermere Prep’s ability to limit Westminster junior guard Jerald Butler’s effectiveness in the second half.
Butler finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, but 18 of those points came during a sensational first half.
“They extended their zone defense and brought up the bottom guy of their 2-3 zone to match up with Butler a little bit more,” Wallhoff said. “I thought offensively we got what we wanted, but it came down to a couple more defensive stops they got and we didn’t get.”
Butler made a highlight-reel play in Tuesday’s semifinal with a thunderous dunk that helped the Lions erase a late four-point deficit and send that game into overtime where they eventually beat Orlando First Academy.
Another rim-rattling dunk Thursday by junior center Paul Atkinson put Westminster in front 43-40 near the end of the third quarter. On the play, Atkinson got position, slammed the ball home and drew a foul later completing the three-point play.
The game went back and forth into the fourth quarter as the Lions were unable to separate themselves.
“We always talk about the future, and we told these guys this was an experience,” Wallhoff said. “It’s obviously not the end experience you want, but we had a lot of great moments throughout the season. I’m so proud of what we did and with everybody returning, I’m excited about the future.”
Atkinson, Butler, Johnston and Scott, who finished with 17 points, and junior Chris MacClugage are expected to return next season. The Lions only graduate reserve guard Davi Santos, their lone senior.
Butler said after the game he would take on more of a leadership role as he tries to lead Westminster back to state.
“I have to learn how to finish games better,” Butler said. “I’m going to get on people to work all the time and get in the gym to get better and make it back here. That’s all that will be on our minds next year.”
WA (23-7): Atkinson 9, Scott 17, Johnston 11, Butler 19, Santos 2.
WP (25-5): Aratius 3, Davis 21, Nickelberry 15, Golding 15, Seelman 6, Swoboda 2.
Half: Tied at 27. Three-pointers: Johnston 3, Davis 3, Golding 3, Nickelberry. Rebounds: Atkinson, Johnston, Butler 9. Assists: Davis, Butler 4. Steals: Nickelberry 4. Blocks: Butler, Golding 2.
If you go
What: The state boys’ basketball finals.
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 West Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per day; Parking: $10.
Thursday’s results — Class 5A semifinals: Jacksonville Bishop Kenny 55, Tampa Jesuit 54; Kissimmee Poinciana 70, Zephyrhills 52; Class 3A final: Windermere Prep 62, Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy 58; Class 4A final: Melbourne Holy Trinity vs. Jacksonville Bolles, inc.
Friday’s schedule — Class 7A semifinals: Tallahassee Lincoln vs. St. Petersburg, 10 a.m.; Pompano Beach Blanche Ely vs. Melbourne, noon; Class 8A semifinals: South Miami vs. Sarasota Riverview, 2; Coral Springs vs. Winter Park, 4; Class 6A semifinals: Largo vs. Pensacola, 6; Fort Lauderdale Dillard vs. Deltona, 8.
Saturday’s schedule — Class 5A final: Bishop Kenny vs. Poinciana-Zephyrhills winner, 11 a.m.; Class 6A final: 1:30; Class 7A final: 4; Class 8A final: 7.