In Boca Ciega's biggest boys basketball game this year, Hank Grant sat on the bench and looked like a drag racer revving his engine.
Grant came in and boosted the sagging Pirates to a 64-63 victory over Springfield Rutherford Wednesday in a Class 4A state semifinal.
Boca Ciega (32-2) plays for the state title at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Hallandale (28-1), a 61-53 winner over Bradenton Southeast.
Against Rutherford (24-8), Boca Ciega blew leads of 15-1 and 23-9, and trailed 51-45 in the fourth quarter. Grant keyed the comeback with 11 fourth-period points.
Point guard Corey Ellis added a soft touch. With 10 seconds remaining and the Pirates down 63-62, Ellis rebounded a missed layup, with no one around him. He tossed it in for the winner.
"The ball just fell into my hands," Ellis said casually. "But if it wasn't for Hank, we don't win this game."
Grant, averaging 13 points a game, scored only two in the first half, and picked up three fouls. He was seated when the third quarter began.
"I was mad at myself," Grant said. "I had to get it going. I sat there figuring out a way I could help."
Grant came in and worked the momentum back to the Pirates' side.
Boca Ciega lost momentum in the first half after taking a 22-7 first-quarter lead (shooting 60 percent and causing eight turnovers).
"That was about as well as we've played," Boca Ciega coach Randy Shuman said. "Maybe we thought we could then get back on the bus."
Boca Ciega made nine turnovers and sank only one basket in the second quarter, and the Rams tied it, 30-30, working for jump shots and getting rebounds (14 total offensive boards).
Different Pirates stepped in to keep Boca Ciega close. Dain Brown led with 16 driving points. Elbert Newton had 14 rebounds and 11 points.
Rutherford led 45-43 on a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the third period.
The Rams made it 51-45 with 4:52 remaining. Boca Ciega got a break when Grant sank a three-pointer while Andy Bolin was fouled underneath. Bolin sank both free throws for a five-point play.
Grant made the next two baskets on ferocious drives, forcing his 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker body to the hoop.
After two free throws and two assists from Grant, the Pirates led 62-57 with 1:36 remaining, but then lost the ball twice. Rutherford scored six unanswered points for a 63-62 lead.
Boca Ciega passed the ball inside. Bolin tried a layup and was swarmed by Rams. That left Ellis open for the rebound. He made it. With seven seconds left, the Rams mistakenly hurried off a 40-foot desperate shot. Grant rebounded it.