LAKELAND When it mattered most and the stakes were highest, it was the elder statesmen who got it done.
Suiting up as a varsity player for the final time, senior guard Parker Davis scored seven of the Lakers’ final 12 points — including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:51 remaining to give Windermere Prep the lead for good —and led his team to a 62-58 victory over Westminster Academy in the FHSAA Class 3A State Championship.
Davis, who has been dreaming of winning a championship for his school since sixth grade, scored a game-high 21 points on the night.
Afterward, as his teammates hugged and celebrated and classmates and supporters cheered in the stands, the veteran guard said the gravity of it all was nearly overwhelming.
“It was just so intense the whole way through,” Davis said. “(When time expired) I kind of wanted to cry and I wanted to be happy — (it was) a lot of mixed emotions and it was awesome.”
For a team that has been powered all season by its “big three” of Davis and junior forwards David Nickelberry and Xion Golding, it was fitting that of those final 12 points, the other five points came by way of Golding and Nickelberry.
With the Lakers trailing by one, 51-50, Golding stole the ball and drove down the court for a layup to put his team ahead with 3:15 to play. Davis scored to put the Lakers up three with 2:52 remaining, but Westminster sharpshooter Chase Johnston drilled a three with 2:31 on the clock to knot the contest at 54-54.
That led to Davis making what may have been the biggest shot of his career so far, the go-ahead 3-pointer that sailed through the net and put the Lakers up for good. After Windermere Prep got a stop at the other end of the floor, Davis was fouled with 1:00 to play and made both free throws to extend the lead to five points, 59-54.
Golding made one-of-two free throws with 40 seconds remaining, and Nickelberry effectively sealed the deal with 20 second left as he calmly made two free throws to cap an 8-0 run for the Lakers in just over a minute and 30 seconds’ time.
“It was just kind of like ‘you guys are our big-time players — make big-time plays,’” Windermere Prep coach Ben Wilson said. “And, sure enough, they did.”
Wilson’s squad triumphed in a contest with 16 lead changes and 10 ties — including ties at the end of the first and second quarter. The Lakers trailed by as many as six points late in the third quarter.
“We just needed to focus ourselves,” Nickelberry said. “I told the guys ‘if we come out strong and power forward with determination, we’ll pull it out.’”
Beyond the Lakers’ “big three,” several role players stepped up in the game’s waning moments — including Will Seelman, who took a crucial charge in the contest’s final minute.
It took an entire team-effort to slow Westminster’s Jerald Butler, who finished with a team-high 19 points — 18 of which came in the first half.
“Constantly, throughout it all, I kept saying ‘let’s play our game,’” Wilson said. “We knew (Butler) was going to be a handful and he was in the first half. I thought we made a great adjustment in the second half and held him to one point — I thought that was huge.”
Windermere Prep concluded the 2015-16 campaign with a 27-5 record. The postseason run marked the program’s first appearance in the state final four and its first state championship.
And, while two-third of the “big three” will be back in Golding and Nickelberry, Davis ends his career as a Laker by bringing the school it’s first team state championship.
“It’s the best,” Davis said. “To finish off senior year with a state championship, it’s the greatest feeling.”