Academy at the Lakes coach Karim Nohra will make his third straight appearance in the region finals after leading the Wildcats to a 57-55 win Tuesday on the road over First Baptist Academy.
But for Nohra, trip No. 3 is clearly the most gratifying.
Coaching a squad that finished with a 0-15 record the year before his arrival, Nohra guided a team with no history and no postseason experience into the region final for the first time.
"This is probably the most satisfying of all," Nohra said, remembering his past two trips to the region finals as head coach at Wesley Chapel. "Taking a 0-15 team and making them regional finalists, this is an amazing thing. This is the most memorable of all of them."
Academy at the Lakes (15-4) can thank a superb effort from the free-throw line. The Wildcats finished 16 of 23 from the charity stripe, and Andrea Mauger was 6 of 8 from the line, including a perfect 4-for-4 effort in the fourth quarter.
"We were pretty good from the free-throw line," Nohra said. "And they all came in crucial situations."
First Baptist Academy (19-9) led 12-11 after one quarter and 25-24 at halftime, but Academy at the Lakes grabbed control in the third quarter thanks to timely steals from Marjorie Rivera that led to fastbreak points. Mauger hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Vanessa Vincent had six of her 13 points in the third to help the Wildcats build a five-point lead going into the final quarter.
Academy at the Lakes led by seven with just more than three minutes remaining, but First Baptist Academy stormed back to tie. At 55-all with 11 seconds left, Mauger was fouled on a drive to the basket and made both free throws. The Lions hoisted a 3 for the win but drew nothing but air.
"(First Baptist Academy) shot the ball well," Nohra said. "They shot a couple of 3s bang bang to get back in it."
Academy at the Lakes was led by Mauger, who had a team-high 20 points, and Rivera, who added 19.