No words could console Ferguson’s girls’ basketball players.
The Falcons came within seconds of winning their first state championship Saturday evening at The Lakeland Center.
Their hopes vanished with the blink of an eye when Boca Raton guard Audrey Ramsey nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bobcats the Class 9A state championship with a 45-42 win over Ferguson.
“They hit a big shot,” Ferguson coach Gabriel Lazo said. “Much respect to Boca. That’s a tough group of kids.”
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Ramsey made the title-winning shot after receiving a long inbounds pass from the baseline from Grace Marko with 1.5 seconds left. Ramsey took a step back and fired the shot, which found net and delivered Boca Raton its first state title.
On the play, Ferguson hoped to deny Marko, a 6-foot forward, a chance to get the ball to any of Boca Raton’s tall frontcourt options, 6-3 Rachel Levy and 6-1 Hannah Pratt.
Their strategy succeeded, but Ramsey delivered.
“We felt like if we could somehow keep the rebounding margin close I felt like we could have won the game,” Lazo said. “We wanted to make sure they got nothing around the paint. But Audrey hit a big shot.”
The Falcons (25-8), who lost in the state semifinals last year, were aiming to win their school’s first state title in any sport and held their own against the much taller Bobcats throughout the game.
The rebounding battle finished even at 44.
But a couple of possessions late in the fourth quarter and missed free throws ultimately allowed Boca Raton to keep it a one possession game and eventually deliver the dagger.
The Falcons missed three free throws down the stretch including one by Sheslanie Laureano (game-high 15 points) on the front end of a 1-and-1 situation moments after she gave Ferguson a 42-40 lead with 2:01 left. Had she hit both, Ferguson would have made it a two-possession game. Freshman Angelee Rodriguez also missed two free throws earlier in the quarter that could have given Ferguson a lead.
Instead, Ramsey tied the score at 42 with 51 seconds left.
Ferguson then turned the ball over with 15.9 seconds remaining when Mercy Gonzalez drove the lane and missed Laureano with a pass wide of the mark that could have set her up for an open three-point attempt.
“Hopefully this will teach us the value of every possession,” Lazo said. “They played hard. We played hard. They made plays. We made plays. But down the stretch, we didn’t take care of the ball.”
With 8.5 seconds left, Boca inbounded the ball to Pratt, who missed a turnaround jumper. Laureano grabbed the rebound but was tied up by Pratt to force a jump-ball that gave Boca the ball back with 1.5 left and set up the game-winner.
Lazo took solace in the fact his team brings back its entire starting lineup, including juniors Natalia Pineda (13 points), Yaire Rodriguez (six points, five steals, five rebounds, four assists) and Gonzalez (nine rebounds), who along with Angelee Rodriguez (10 rebounds) held their own against Boca’s taller frontcourt.
After the game, the starters embraced in a group hug with Lazo and let the tears flow.
“We had a freshman in Angelee going up against two seniors going to play for Division I schools,” Lazo said. “This was a storybook ending, but we let it slip away.”
FER (25-8): A. Rodriguez 8, Laureano 15, Y. Rodriguez 6, Pineda 13. BR (25-6): Pratt 9, Ramsey 10, Marko 11, Mingo 2, Levy 13. Half: BR 25-24. Three-pointers: Laureano 3, Pineda, Levy 2, Ramsey, Marko. Rebounds: Pratt 15. Assists: Y. Rodriguez 4. Steals: Y. Rodriguez 5. Blocks: Pratt, Marko, A. Rodriguez 2.