RIVERVIEW — Heading into the final quarter of Riverview's Class 5A region final against Winter Haven on Saturday, the Sharks seemed well on their way to their first state tournament.
The Sharks led the perennial state power by nine — until it occurred to this young Riverview team that it had never been this far and their postseason inexperience began to show.
Riverview's state bid collapsed in a disastrous eight-minute stretch as Winter Haven clinched its 10th state berth in 12 years with a 45-43 win.
"It's all kind of a blur, those last few seconds," said Riverview coach Lelani Gordon, a 30-year veteran who led Hillsborough to the region final in 1986 and '94.
The Sharks (27-3) led Winter Haven 39-30 heading into the fourth. But Riverview managed just two field goals in the final quarter and was 0-for-7 from the free-throw line in the period.
"I hate to use experience as a reason, but we had every opportunity there at the end," Gordon said. "We had every opportunity to get a bucket in the last 20 seconds, last 10 seconds, last two seconds."
Winter Haven's Erica Lanier (team-high 16 points) completed the Blue Devils' 15-4 fourth-quarter run with a basket with 1:18 remaining to give Winter Haven (24-5) its first lead since the first quarter at 45-43.
The Sharks got the ball with 43.9 seconds left but rushed two shots, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, then missed three more shots in the final five seconds.
"I still don't know how we got out of it," Winter Haven coach Johnnie Lawson said. "They didn't make many mistakes. They made them at the wrong time. That's a team you don't want to see too many times"
Faith Woodard, who played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, led the Sharks with 11 points. Justina James added 10, while Monet Williams and Madison Greaney scored eight each. All four will return next year.
"Our future is bright," Gordon said. "We're not at all unhappy with our season, but we felt we had this opportunity and I know as a veteran coach that they just don't come along every year."