Ferguson sophomore guard Natalia Pineda had the last-second, game-winning attempt perfectly lined up from the top of the key.
It’s a spot on the floor where she feels comfortable, and the shot looked true … until it bounced off the back iron … and then the left side of the rim … and off.
With the miss came the end of Ferguson’s dream season as the Falcons lost 44-43 to Vero Beach in a Class 8A state semifinal on Friday afternoon at The Lakeland Center.
Ferguson (25-8), which closed the game on a stunning 11-0 run, came up just short on its first trip to state.
“Coach drew up a really good play,” Pineda said of Gabriel Lazo. “It just seemed like I had that shot open. I took it and, by my perspective, I thought it was going in.
“When it hit the back of the rim, a lot went through my mind … It just hurt.”
Lazo said the Falcons ran a back screen for guard Gio Perez, the only senior on the team and a Stony Brook recruit.
“Both [defenders] ran with Gio,” Lazo said. “It was perfectly executed.”
It was perfect … except for the shot, which was just a couple of inches off-target.
Pineda had a double-double — 13 points and 10 rebounds. Perez added 10 points and a game-high five assists. And sophomore guard Sheslanie Laureano led Ferguson with 17 points.
Vero Beach (25-1) was powered by Yale recruit Megan Gorman, a 6-2 senior forward who had 19 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks. She had a double-double secured within the first couple of minutes of the third quarter and made 9-of-16 shots from the floor.
“No one in the state is going to shut down Megan,” Lazo said of Gorman, who averages 19 points and 15 rebounds. “She’s one of the best players in the state.”
The past two years, Ferguson was eliminated from the regional finals by Miami High and its star center at the time, Beatrice Mompremier, who is now at Baylor.
On Friday, it was Gorman who helped stake Vero Beach to leads of 17-6 after one quarter and 30-16 at the half.
Vero Beach led 44-32 in the fourth quarter when Ferguson made its dramatic comeback. Ferguson sophomore guard Yaire Rodriguez hit a three-pointer to cap the rally, cutting Vero Beach’s lead to 44-43 with 52 seconds left.
After the basket by Rodriguez, Ferguson tried to get the ball back, but a Falcons foul on Jordan Wade was ruled intentional, giving Vero Beach two free throws and the ball.
Vero Beach missed all three of its free throws in the final minute, but the intentional foul allowed the Indians to keep possession and burn clock. That led to Pineda’s slightly rushed final shot.
“They said we didn’t go for the ball,” Lazo said when asked for the referees’ explanation on the intentional foul. “That was rough. I didn’t agree with the call. It was a game-changing call.”
F: Perez 10, Pineda 13, Laureano 17, Rodriguez 3, VB: Wade 3, Smith 5, Miller 7, Harris 8, Fonchum 2, Gorman 19. Half: VB 30-16; Three-pointers: Wade 1, Smith 1, Miller 1, Laureano 3, Perez 1, Rodriguez 1.