In a season full of close games and heart-thumping victories, Boca Ciega could win the state Class 4A boys basketball championship no other way.
In Friday's championship, in front of 3,728 customers at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center, Boca Ciega led Hallandale 63-62 with 4.6 seconds left.
Hallandale passed the ball to its best shooter, Sebastian Henry at the far end of the court. First, Dain Brown and Corey Ellis harassed him.
Then Henry tried to pass the ball by Hank Grant. Grant clutched the ball and held onto the steal until the buzzer, clinching the 63-62 victory.
Eighth-ranked Boca Ciega (33-2) won the first title for a Pinellas public school since the Pirates won it in 1986. Fourth-ranked Hallandale, the 1987 state champion, finished at 28-2.
It was Boca Ciega's eighth victory of two points or less.
"We were prepared for this type of situation," said Boca Ciega coach Randy Shuman, whose run-and-gun team made only 15 turnovers. "That is wonderful against this defense."
Hallandale pressured continually but the Pirates remained composed, led by point guard Corey Ellis, named the tournament's most valuable player.
Ellis drove and bombed (two treys) for a team-high 16 points. And he kept his cool.
"Coach told me to control the tempo and get everybody the ball," Ellis said.
Ellis liked to get it to Andy Bolin. The Pirates' fifth-leading scorer, Bolin played his best game, scoring 15 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Hallandale out-rebounded the Pirates 57-40, but Bolin kept the Pirates in it.
"I had a talk with Andy last night," Shuman said. "I told him we don't win this game without Andy Bolin. And he stepped up big tonight."
Brown and Grant also scored double figures (11 points apiece), Elbert Newton added six and eight rebounds, and Darren Howard came off the bench for four points, four rebounds and five blocked shots.
"That's a great team," Hallandale coach David Daniels said. "Those are two real good guards (Ellis and Brown). We neutralized them a little but not as much as I'd like."
Chargers 6-foot-5 center Trejuan Kilpatrick scored 19 and had 20 rebounds but said Bolin made the difference.
"We underestimated him," Kilpatrick said of the 6-3, 175-pound Bolin. "He was the small guy and he surprised us."
Bolin said, "I just got in a groove and my teammates got me the ball."
Boca Ciega actually out-rebounded Hallandale in the first half (23-18), taking a 29-25 lead. The Pirates led by as much as 11 (19-8).
In the second half, Hallandale took over the boards with 16 offensive rebounds. Down 32-29, the Chargers scored six consecutive points and took its first lead.
But neither team shot well (Boca Ciega 36 percent, Hallandale 31 percent) and since the Pirates weren't making many turnovers, the game stayed close.
Ellis put the Pirates up for good, 44-43 with a driving jumper at the end of the third quarter.
Boca Ciega scored the first seven points of the final period, including treys by Bolin and Grant, taking a 51-43 lead.
"We covered their outside shooting but they hit the key shots," Daniels said. "That's a sign of good leadership."
The Pirates led 61-56 with 1:15 remaining. Hallandale rebounded every one of its next five missed shots (scoring six points). Boca Ciega made two of three free throws and two turnovers in the last 24 seconds, to lead 63-62.
That's when Hallandale's Henry tried to drive up the court and was stopped by Grant.
"Corey and Dain made him spin, and he came to me," Grant said. "He thought his teammate was right there, but he wasn't so I stepped up (and stole the ball)."
Not only does Boca Ciega know how to play in close games, but it knows how to win. Shuman said his junior players are now 72-7 in the past three years.
"They have been working for this day," said a calm Shuman. "I may not be showing much emotion but this is the happiest day of my life as a basketball coach."
Pinellas County boys basketball titles
Pinellas County teams that have won Florida High School Activities Assocation state boys basketball titles (with classification in parenthesis):
Boca Ciega: 1986 (3A), 1994 (4A).
Clearwater: 1981 (4A).
Clearwater Central Catholic: 1976 (2A); 1986 (2A); 1987 (2A).
Dixie Hollins: 1961 (2A); 1962 (2A).
Dunedin: 1966 (A).
Gibbs: 1967 (2A); 1969 (A).
St. Petersburg: 1933.
NOTE: The FHSAA did not start its classification system for boys basketball until 1938.