WESLEY CHAPEL — Wesley Chapel fans spilled from the stands to mob the court’s two stars — the maroon logo at the center of rival Wiregrass Ranch’s home floor, and their blue-clad hero basking in his milestone night.
Wildcats senior Erik Thomas scored 22 of his team’s 31 second-half points — and the 2,000th of his career — to lead his team to a 65-62 victory over the Bulls in Friday night’s showdown between Pasco County’s top teams.
“He seems to find a way to get the job done,” Wesley Chapel coach Doug Greseth said.
Thomas needed to bail out the Wildcats (21-4) after Wiregrass (19-6) dominated early on its senior night at a standing room-only gym. The Bulls opened an early 10-point lead behind two of Chris Parra’s five treys and an alley-oop dunk by senior Rico Kerney.
But when Kerney ran into foul trouble, Thomas and the Wildcats pulled away.
The 6-foot-5 forward scored his 2,000th career point on a layup in the second quarter. He joined his older sister, Sthefany, as the only players in school history to reach that mark.
“I worked hard for it,” said Thomas, who finished with 14 rebounds and a game-high 35 points. “It’s everything.”
Thomas’ 18th 30-point game of the season included a spurt when he outscored the Bulls 7-3 in the first three minutes of the fourth before Wiregrass made a late run. The Bulls’ half-court trap forced four key turnovers, and Kerney and Parra combined for 16 points in the period. Parra’s fade-away 3-pointer with a minute left cut Wesley Chapel’s lead to 63-62.
Parra finished with a team-high 19 points but missed a shot moments later that would have given the Bulls the lead. The ball slipped free to Carson Emery, who found Thomas unguarded under the basket with 11 seconds left.
“If you’re gonna leave anybody wide open,” Bulls coach Jeremy Calzone said, “why is it him?”
Kerney had a final attempt to tie, and his contested 3-pointer kissed the backboard and the rim before falling to the ground.
“I know it’s a cliché, but it’s a shame somebody had to lose,” Greseth said.
Kerney scored 18 points, and Larrentz Manora added 11 points and eight boards for the Bulls. Emery chipped in 15 points for the Wildcats.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.