LAKELAND — Longtime Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon has grown used to the disappointment of leaving the Lakeland Center empty-handed. In four previous trips to the state final four, the Terrapins have gone home disappointed.
Heartbreak, however, reached a new high for the Terrapins on Thursday afternoon.
It was evident in the downtrodden look of Fenlon, a 534-game winner, on the Tampa Prep sideline at the final buzzer. It could be seen in the shell-shocked faces of a group of Terrapins players who simply couldn't find the words to describe what had happened after their Class 2A semifinal against West Palm Beach Summit Christian.
In a span of 13 ticks of the game clock, the Terrapins went from hope to anguish, from confident to confused, from pumping their fists to hanging their heads. Fenlon and his team likely will never forget the sound of the referee's whistle that blew with 0.4 seconds left in overtime in a tie game that see-sawed.
The Terrapins' fifth trip to the state semifinals ended Thursday, with a 58-56 overtime loss that was sealed from the free-throw line after senior guard Jake Haslam challenged Kyle Yong's last-second 3-point attempt and was whistled for a foul.
"There was so much emotion being swung from one side to the other," Fenlon said. "If that was a game in mid January, you'd say you'd learn from it, but the finality of it happening when it happened where it happened. …It was heartbreaking."
Haslam had just hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to tie the score with 13 seconds remaining. After Summit inbounded, there was a scramble for the ball at the top of the key. The ball rolled to Yong who scooped it up and launched the last shot, which was partially blocked by Haslam. Yong fell backward into the Summit bench and about a second later the whistle blew.
"I thought we were going to another overtime," Haslam said. "I got a hand up. If that's the call they made, then there's nothing you can change about it. If that's how he sees it, that's how he sees it."
Fenlon tried to choose his words carefully after the game.
"I'll be interested to see the tape," he said. "Kids watch a lot of ESPN. They watch a lot of TV. They know how to bait fouls. Yes, I saw contact, but it wasn't the same contact that other people might have seen."
The Terps (26-5), led by junior Jay Bowie's 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals, took a 49-45 lead with 2:13 remaining in regulation. The Saints (28-4) tied it at the free-throw line, but Tampa Prep held them scoreless for the final 1:16 in regulation..
"All I ever ask of the kids is to give themselves an opportunity to win, and I think we gave ourselves and opportunity in the end," Fenlon said. "The ball didn't fall our way in the end."