WESLEY CHAPEL — At one point during the third quarter Tuesday night, Wesley Chapel trailed district rival Hernando by 16 points. Fans had long since stopped cheering when the Wildcats had the ball.
Then the Wildcats proved they could power through a long match. Wesley Chapel held on to its runnerup spot in Class 5A, District 7, defeating the Leopards 69-66 in overtime.
The Wildcats were behind for the first three quarters but hit key shots in the third and started forcing turnovers in the fourth.
“I said defense was going to be the key,” Wesley Chapel coach Doug Greseth said during halftime. “It’s a long game; keep your heads up.”
He told the boys that in addition to blocking and forcing turnovers, they needed to get inside shots if they were going to steal the win in the second half.
It wouldn’t be easy as the Wildcats trailed by 10 points at halftime. They surged back, however, scoring 36 points in the second half while holding the Leopards to 26.
“I thought we started taking better shots, making better calls,” Greseth said.
A 3-pointer by Carson Emery drew the Wildcats within one point of tying the score in the fourth, the closest they’d come to catching up since the first few minutes of the game. Wesley Chapel forced a turnover on the next play, and Sebastian Mejia’s free throw tied it at 54 with a little more than four minutes remaining.
The rest of the fourth quarter was a rapid back and forth that had fans on both sides jumping to their feet. The buzzer sounded with the score tied at 60.
Marcus Hayne got the ball for Wesley Chapel on the tip-off, and the Wildcats took and held their first lead since the first quarter. The last four minutes of the game were slow, with both sides taking frequent free throws, and the Leopards never had a chance to catch up.
Hayne led both teams in scoring with 28 points — 10 of which were free throws. Emery added 14 points for the Wildcats.
In purple and gold, Mark Wilson led the Leopards with 21 points. Mike Jones had 11, and Jonathan Zayas had 10.