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State basketball: Tampa Prep finally breaks through for Class 3A title

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Thu. March 1, 2012 | John C. Cotey | Email

State basketball: Tampa Prep finally breaks through for Class 3A title

LAKELAND — Ideally, with two minutes remaining and a slim lead, Tampa Prep passes the ball around, runs some time off the clock, maybe catches the opponent overplaying and gets an easy lay-up.

Except, well, Marshall Holmes was open.

“I knew it wasn’t one of the best shots,” the sophomore said, shrugging and smiling.

But Holmes took it anyway, spinning a wide-open 3-pointer through the net with 1:46 remaining. Then a few seconds later he got a steal and dunk to all but seal, finally, the first high school boys basketball state championship for Tampa Prep and longtime coach Joe Fenlon.

Holmes’ baskets, which might go down as the most memorable 12 seconds in Terrapin hoops history, turned a tight two-point game into a 58-50 victory over  Weston Sagemont in Thursday morning’s Class 3A state championship at the Lakeland Center.

The victory ended a long and often frustrating quest for Fenlon, who had taken the Terrapins to the final four seven times, including the previous three seasons, losing almost every heartbreakingly way possible.

Port St. Joe was his nemesis, beating him in his first four trips, including once in overtime in the 2007 semifinals.

In 2009, he lost to West Palm Beach Summit when a foul was called with 0.7 seconds, resulting in the winning free throws.

“It’s kind of been an interesting tour of duty,” Fenlon said.

To get to the state final this year, Tampa Prep had to dispatch two teams that had been part of the Terrapins’ drought. In the region final, they beat Orlando First Academy (avenging a 2011 state semifinal loss) and in the semifinal defeated Providence (avenging a 2010 state final loss).

“It was extremely emotional for the last 30 seconds of the game, because at that point I felt very confident we were going to win the game,” Fenlon said. “I just wanted the clock to end.”

The Terrapins (31-1) never trailed against Sagemont by more than three points and led most of the game.

They took the lead for good on Adonis Rwabigwi’s dunk early in the third quarter, and midway through the fourth quarter Josh Heath made it 50-43 with a lay-in.

Last year’s 2A state champion, Sagemont (24-8) fought back, and a Jeff Coby free throw pulled the Lions within 50-48 with two minutes left.

But in an arena known for giving even the best 3-point shooters nightmares, Holmes calmly stepped up and hit his 3 right in front of the Tampa Prep bench, earning a pat of the backside from Fenlon as he rushed back on defense.

“I felt open. I felt confident,” he said. “And it just felt like it would go in.”

Holmes, who made the winning free throw in the region final with 6.6 seconds left and made crucial free throws in Tuesday’s overtime win, wasn’t done.

As Nick DeLucia rushed the ball up the court, he made the mistake of telegraphing a pass. “I saw it in his eyes,” said Holmes, who jumped it, then dunked it with 1:34 remaining.

“That was huge,” said Heath. “It got everyone in the place fired up.”

Holmes finished with a game-high 17 points and didn’t turn the ball over once.

Heath, a junior, made three free throws down the stretch to cap an exceptional final four. He had 15 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals.

And Fenlon, for the first time in 29 years of coaching, walked off the court after his team’s last game of the season a happy man.

Finally.

Road to first title
A look at Tampa Prep’s state final four appearances
Year    Round    Result
1997    3A finals    L, 47-43 to Port St. Joe
1998    2A semifinals    L, 74-64 to Port St. Joe
1999    2A finals    L, 44-37 to  Port St. Joe    
2007    2A semifinals    L, 66-63 (OT) to Port St. Joe
2009    2A semifinals    L, 58-56 (OT) to West Palm Beach Summit Chr.
2010    2A finals    L, 63-46 to Jacksonville Providence
2011    2A semifinals    L, 68-49 to Orlando First Academy
2012    3A finals    W, 58-50 over Weston Sagemont

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@tampabay.com

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