Windermere Prep defeated visiting Tampa Prep 73-70 in the regional championship of the Class 3A Playoffs. With the win, the Lakers advanced to the Final Four in Lakeland for the first time.
WINDERMERE The Lakers are going to Lakeland.
The Windermere Prep boys basketball team erupted in celebration as a last-second shot by visiting Tampa Prep fell short, giving the Lakers the 73-70 victory in the regional championship of the FHSAA Class 3A Playoffs.
Classmates stormed the court Saturday night as the program celebrated what is its first trip to the FHSAA Final Four at the Lakeland Center.
Windermere Prep (25-5), the No. 3 team in the state in Class 3A, will now take on Miami's Archbishop Carroll (28-3), No. 4 in Florida, at 8 p.m on Tuesday in the state semifinals.
But, for the moment, head coach Ben Wilson and his program are enjoying a landmark achievement.
"It's a big relief — we've talked so much over the years to get to this point," Wilson said. "It's been a long journey but, hey, we're going to enjoy this one."
The Lakers and Tampa Prep (19-11) went back-and-forth throughout the contest, including several lead changes.
After the Terrapins' Tyson Ward tied the game at 68-68 with 52 seconds remaining, Windermere Prep junior David Nickelberry converted a putback with 35 seconds to go. A made free throw by senior Parker Davis put the Lakers up 71-68 with 13.5 seconds left, but Ward — who scored a game-high 31 points — made two free throws with 7.3 seconds left to cut the lead to just one.
After a turnover by the Terrapins gave the ball back to Windermere Prep with 1.7 seconds left, Xion Golding was fouled on the inbounds and converted two free throws with 1.2 seconds on the clock — what would become the game's final two points.
The Lakers had fell behind by as many as five points in the third quarter, but closed that quarter on a pivotal 6-0 run to take the lead entering the fourth.
In his last home game as a Laker, Davis led Windermere Prep with 20 points on the night while Nickelberry compiled 18 points. Golding had 11 points and junior center Ryan Swoboda had a huge game for the Lakers with 12 points — including several key rebounds a thunderous dunk in the game's waning moments.
"The rest of our guys can all play, too," Wilson said. "We knew at some point during this run that Ryan was going to make an impact."
Before this season, Windermere Prep had never advanced past the regional semifinals. Now, Davis and his teammates are heading to the state semifinals in Lakeland with a regional title and a district title already to their credit.
"It feels amazing," Davis said. "I'm just very excited to play (in Lakeland) for the first time."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].