PINELLAS PARK — Ryan Jones was all alone at the free-throw line. There was 0.7 of a second left on the clock. The game was tied.
All Jones had to do was make one of his three attempts to give Pinellas Park the lead against Largo. The first free throw bounced off the rim. It bounced twice. Then it bounced off.
Jones stepped to the line again — and missed. The vise tightened: a winning free throw or overtime. Jones took a long, deep breath and released.
Down to his final attempt, Jones made the last free throw count as he helped the Patriots pull off a season-defining 75-74 win over a Packers team that entered Friday's game undefeated against county competition.
"We've been waiting for a win against a quality program like this for a while," Pinellas Park coach Jon Cabino said. "The kids have been competing and been in games. We just stepped it up and hit big shots when we needed them."
For most of the season, the Patriots have had trouble finishing games against the county's stronger programs. Last month, Pinellas Park (8-5) watched a 16-point lead dissolve in the second half against Gibbs and a nine-point lead against Lakewood vanish in the final minute of regulation.
Friday appeared to be the same story. The Patriots, thanks to the outside shooting of Corey Edwards and Srdjan Jankovic and the inside presence of Colton Jacobs, built a nine-point lead with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Then Largo started executing plays with Breon Bostick and Patrick Kearney each scoring down low. By the final minute, the Packers reduced the deficit to three. Then they tied it in the final 10 seconds on a 3-pointer by Kevin McKellar.
"I thought we might be reverting back to our same trend," Cabino said.
That's when Jones positioned himself for a 3-pointer and was fouled, setting up his final heroics.
"I couldn't even think when I was at the line," Jones said. "I just knew I needed to knock down a shot. It felt so good to get that last one. It was such a big relief."