ORLANDO — It didn't matter whether the West Orange Warriors were trailing by double-digits or down two possessions with just 30 seconds to play — they simply did not quit Wednesday night.
That persistence helped the Warriors rally to force overtime against the Ocoee Knights, ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 8A, and eventually defeat the Knights, 81-75, in the semifinals of the Class 8A District 3 Tournament.
In doing so,West Orange (16-10) punched a ticket to Friday's district championship game and — perhaps more importantly — secured a berth in the FHSAA Class 8A State Playoffs.
"I'm excited for the kids — they gave their all," Warriors coach Eric Jones said. "Perseverance ... these guys have just been doing a fantastic job the last few weeks in terms of preparation and I feel like that was the difference."
Quinton Forrest led West Orange with 28 points and scored with under three seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime. The play was a set play drawn up by Jones during a timeout and worked to perfection for the Warriors and was not defended well by Ocoee, as Forrest was wide open for an easy bucket.
"My favorite quote is 'be phenomenal or be forgotten' — so I just tell the guys 'if we lose they'll forget about us but if we win West Orange is going to be on people's mouths forever,'" Forrest said. "I was shocked that I was that wide-open ... it was a good play and coach Jones is a great coach."
Decary Croaker added 21 points for the Warriors.
Ocoee was led by 26 points from Vaughn McCall and 25 points from Grant Riller, who fouled out in the middle of the fourth quarter — a loss that would prove difficult for the Knights to overcome, though head coach Rob Gordon said it was his team's inability to limit turnovers that would do them in.
"(The game) got away from us when we were not able to take care of the ball consistently," Gordon said. "We were not able to keep them off of the glass or keep them out of the paint."
The loss serves as a disappointing end to what is the program's best season in its history. Ocoee had its first 20-win season and was ranked among the top teams in the state for most of the season.
The season was a success, even in spite of Wednesday's defeat, a message Gordon hoped to relay to his players after the game.
"I just told them how proud I was of them because they've completely changed the landscape of Ocoee basketball," Gordon said.
West Orange will play in Friday's district championship at Olympia at 7 p.m. against the winner of the other semifinal between Evans and Olympia.