TAMPA — Wharton's Shayla Cooper hit a free throw with three seconds left as the Wildcats snuck by Plant 54-53 Saturday to capture the Class 6A, District 8 final.
After Cooper tied the score at 53 with 31 seconds to play, Plant (16-8) played for the last shot, but Wharton's Tesha Hanson stole the ball from Michelle Taylor.
"I told myself to stay low on defense, not to foul and to remember that we were both left-handed," Hanson said.
After an inbounds play, Cooper was fouled on a shot attempt, then hit one of two free throws for Wharton (21-4), which advances to host Sarasota at 7 p.m. Thursday in the region quarterfinals. Plant plays host St. Petersburg.
"Before the free throws I had to let go of everything and block out the crowd," Cooper said. "This was a very important game for us; we wanted to do this for the seniors."
Hanson led the Wildcats with 18 points while Cooper had 15.
"We knew it was going to be a close game; Plant shot really well tonight. This type of game summarizes our season, but luckily it doesn't end it," Wharton coach Chad Reed said.
Taylor scored 25 for Plant, which also got 20 from Kelly Brennan.
Wharton jumped to an early 8-0 lead, as the Panthers missed their first eight shots, scoring just two points in the first quarter.
Plant fought back in the second quarter and trailed 26-24 at the half, then went back and forth with Wharton in the second half.