WESLEY CHAPEL ― If Wesley Chapel was going to remain undefeated, it had to not only avoid fatigue but slow down Tampa Prep guard Kailyn Gilbert. The Wildcats did not slow down Gilbert, who scored 39 points. And they were out of gas in the game’s final minutes.
But they still hung on for a 63-60 win Friday night. It came one night after defeating rival Wiregrass Ranch on the road and returning to school late.
“Poor scheduling on my part," Wesley Chapel coach Peter Livingston said. “But if we were going to play them it had to be Friday night. That’s the only date that was open. A game like this is only going to make us better."
Livingston wanted to challenge his team and the Wildcats got all they could handle. Wesley Chapel (5-0) started strong and was able to keep Gilbert in check in the first quarter. Ariana Rivera-Heppenstall hit a 3-pointer midway through the first and gave the Wildcats a 12-7 lead. They led 16-12 after one quarter.
It was mostly all Wesley Chapel in the second. The Wildcats went on a 9-2 run that included another 3 from Rivera-Heppenstall and layups from Mia Nicholson, Emari Lewis and Ameria Christopher. By halftime, the Wildcats led the Terrapins 37-23 thanks to a 6-0 run to close out the quarter.
It looked like it might get out of hand when Lewis opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer. But Gilbert made one of her own and started to heat up. With Wesley Chapel leading 43-30, Gilbert made four free throws and hit two jumpers in an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 43-38. When Gilbert converted a three-point play in the final seconds of the third, Wesley Chapel only led 48-44.
Midway through the fourth, the Wildcats’ lead grew to eight points. But Tampa Prep (5-1) had one more run left. Gilbert hit a jumper and a layup. With 1:20 left, Arianna Mosley drilled a 3-pointer that made the score 61-60 Wesley Chapel.
In the bonus, the Wildcats missed a free throw and gave the Terrapins a chance to take the lead with 30 seconds left. But a Gilbert shot was just off the mark.
Lewis was able to make two free throws in the final 10 seconds. Tampa Prep still had one more chance. With two seconds left, Gilbert’s 3-point shot just missed to end the game.
“I knew this was going to be a good game," said Lewis, who ended the game with a team-high 26 points. “They have Kailyn Gilbert, so we tried to double team her. We moved the ball well. I think we did good. It was very competitive."
Nicholson chipped in for the Wildcats with 14 points. Rivera-Heppenstall, Christopher and Grant each had eight points. Grant fouled out late in the game.
“We missed too many free throws," Livingston said. “That’s what kept them in the game. And we also fouled unnecessarily and we let them back in. But I enjoyed the competition. I think this is a game both teams needed."
Aside from Gilbert, no other Tampa Prep player scored in double figures. Isela Suarez finished with eight points, including two 3-pointers.