A wild regional final win over Wharton pushed Windermere to its first state Final Four appearance.
With the clock quickly ticking away on Windermere’s season, the Wolverines did what they have done all year — they found a way to win.
With just under eight seconds to go and a state Final Four spot on the line, Trey Moss found Josh Colon in the left corner for an open shot that sunk the bottom of the net to give the Wolverines the 59-57 lead.
What happened next was a frantic defensive stop that saw a shot from Wharton (26-5) hang on the rim before rolling off as time expired.
“The thing we talked about was, ‘The only way we can lose is if they hit a three, so don’t give up a three,’” head coach Mark Griseck said. “We had two guys run at a three-point shooter and run him off the line; he drove it and just missed it. We had a little luck go our way again.”
The final buzzer sounded, and a split second later, students rushed the floor to celebrate the monumental win alongside their team.
It was a moment senior guard Carter Zavada will never forget.
“I was telling one of my teammates that it was the best feeling I think I’ve ever felt — not even from a basketball standpoint, but just the rush and the excitement and the joy that I experienced and everyone experienced in that gym,” Zavada said. “The fans started storming the court early — even though there was like, five seconds left in the game — but you could just tell that the atmosphere was booming that night.”
For fellow senior captain Dakota Rivers, that last 10 seconds felt like they took years off his life. It was an intensity he had not felt before.
“I couldn’t even believe it — it was to a point where I couldn’t even breathe,” Rivers said. “Just being able to play in that atmosphere and know it was the biggest game of our lives — it was just crazy. I couldn’t even hear, because there was so much screaming, and I didn’t even know what was going on.”
That game on Friday night — during which Dante Love picked up 21 points and Trey Moss grabbed 14 — was just the latest stepping stone for a young program exceeding expectations in the biggest of ways.
After a regular season concluded with a district title over Ocoee, the Wolverines (27-4) have seemingly lived by the words of late NC State head coach Jim Valvano: “Survive and advance.”
The rather simple concept is that a team just needs to put itself in a position to win to stay alive. Griseck has utilized that concept, as well as an old nickname that refers to that national title-winning Wolfpack team.
“I told somebody that we’re the Cardiac Pack, man,” Griseck said. “I watched every one of those games in ’83, so I know all about it. We could have easily lost all three games — we’ve been fortunate and have had some luck go our way.”
“I was telling one of my teammates that it was the best feeling I think I’ve ever felt — not even from a basketball standpoint, but just the rush and the excitement and the joy that I experienced and everyone experienced in that gym."
— Carter Zavada
Through their three-game playoff run so far, the Wolverines were taken to overtime twice — once against Hagerty in the quarterfinal and then against Melbourne in the regional semis.
Although fans of the Wolverines probably were thrilled to not have to deal with another overtime game, Zavada said the prospect of playing extra basketball was one for which the team was ready.
But now, the Wolverines have a new obstacle to climb as they travel to Lakeland to compete in the 8A state semifinal against defending state champion Blanche Ely (23-6) at 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 8.
“We have a big challenge coming, and luckily we’ll have some time to prepare,” Griseck said. “We told our guys to enjoy it this weekend, and then we’re back to practice tomorrow (Monday). We just have to keep getting better.”
Regardless of Friday’s outcome, the progress Griseck and his players have made at Windermere in just two years is incredible. Zavada said it feels like everything is coming together for the young program.
“It’s a confirmation of, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be,” Zavada said. “I think we are doing incredible things, and no one expected us to be here. It’s just really been us buying into what our coaches have been saying and us buying into our program. For us to be here — it’s just really awesome.”