TAMPA — The game was down to one shot. The chance to win in regulation was condensed to five seconds. And there was Cobey Quarterman waiting to make everything right.
Seffner Christian tried every other manner of sealing Thursday’s Class 3A region quarterfinal against host Berkeley Prep that was on the verge of disaster. There were no other options.
The ball came to Quarterman near the top of the key, and the junior made sure he would not fail with the clock running out.
Quarterman caught the ball with roughly five seconds left and netted a 3-pointer. The Crusaders erupted, pandemonium reigned, and at midcourt a blur of maroon-and-white jerseys danced.
Seffner Christian's new Mr. Clutch swished one just before time expired, sending his team to a 61-59 victory over the Buccaneers.
“I knew I had to hit for my team,” said Quarterman, who knocked down the first game-winning shot of his career. “It felt good as soon as I released it. I knew it was going in.”
The Crusaders were not supposed to be in this position. They had a losing record going into the playoffs. They dealt with suspensions and players moving to other states, then returning.
Not quite the continuity to go on another postseason run like Seffner Christian did last year to reach the state championship game for the first time in program history.
There were losses to cope with even before Thursday’s game. The Crusaders had to play without their top playmaker, Mike Trigg, who sat because of a school-related issue, according to coach Sam Moorer.
Moorer did not know if Trigg would return for the next playoff game. “I can’t really comment on the situation,” he said.
Though Seffner Christian was short-handed, it did not play that way. The Crusaders were tenacious on defense, patient on offense.
And they were confident.
That had a lot to do with their schedule.
After making it to the final last season, Moorer wanted to find as many quality games as possible. Nearly every regular-season game was against a playoff opponent. Trouble was, Seffner Christian had to wait for most of its players to return from football playoffs. They did not even get in one practice together as a team before playing their first regular-season game.
There were plenty of struggles. Seffner Christian lost its first six games of the season.
Still, Moorer knew his team would be better for having to go through so much adversity.
“There were a lot of challenges we had to go through, on and off the court,” Moorer said. “But you never want the easy road. Whatever the challenges were, whether they were inside the team or outside them, we met them. I can’t help but think the schedule had everything to do with helping us pull that off against this team.”
This was a rematch of the district final the Crusaders lost by three points. Once again, the matchup was close. The score was tied at the half.
At the end of the third quarter, Seffner Christian (13-16) went up by five points, a lead they continued to hold with about two minutes remaining. Then the momentum, the lead and the game appeared to be slipping away.
The Buccaneers’ Varun Ajjarapu, a Coast Guard signee, kept firing away from the outside, hitting three straight 3-pointers, the last coming with 1:09 left to cut the deficit to one. Teammate Kegan Karnes followed that by driving to the lane for a layup, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw for a 59-58 lead with 10 seconds left.
The Crusaders were out of timeouts. No time to draw up a play. They drove the length of the court. They made the right passes, the right moves.
And Quarterman hit the shot.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Moorer said.
Games 7 p.m. Tuesday.
7A: No. 3 Wharton at No. 2 Windermere
6A: No. 5 Charlotte at No. 1 East Lake
6A: No. 7 St. Petersburg at No. 3 Fort Myers
6A: No. 7 Lakeland at No. 3 Hillsborough
5A: No. 4 Port Charlotte at No. 1 Clearwater
5A: No. 3 Naples at No. 2 Jesuit
5A: No. 3 Land O’ Lakes at No. 2 Orlando Jones
4A: No. 5 Lakewood at No. 1 Tampa Catholic
4A: No. 4 Anclote at No. 1 Lake Highland Prep
3A: No. 4 Calvary Christian at No. 1 Community School of Naples
3A: No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 6 Fort Myers Canterbury
2A: No. 3 Cambridge Christian at No. 2 Bayshore Christian