LAKELAND — In a year filled with drama, the Jesuit boys basketball team ended its season Thursday with one last dramatic battle in a Class 5A state semifinal against heavily favored Pembroke Pines Charter.
Using their patented multiple zone defenses and outside shooting prowess, the Tigers gave the taller, athletic Jaguars fits before finally succumbing in overtime, 63-57 at RP Funding Center.
At several moments — including when it took a 40-33 lead with 6 minutes, 39 seconds left in regulation — it appeared Jesuit might pull off the upset, something it managed to do numerous times in the past month.
“We thought we might just pull away (after taking the seven-point lead), but then (Pines Charter) came right back and tied it right back up (in less than a minute),” Jesuit coach Neal Goldman said. “Then at the end (of regulation), we hit some clutch shots to get it to overtime.”
No shot was more clutch than the one launched by senior guard Jack Delp, a 3-pointer that tied the game at 53 with 7.4 seconds remaining.
In overtime, however, Pines Charter (12-3 and ranked No. 1 in Class 5A) used its height advantage down low to full effect, scoring all 10 of its OT points near the basket.
Jesuit (25-5 and ranked No. 14) had a couple of shots in overtime rim out, literally missing by inches.
“We fought right to the end just like we have all season,” said Jesuit senior forward Joe Pesansky, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “Whenever we were down, we never felt like we were out. This whole program has done some great things this season, from the junior varsity to the varsity.”
The junior varsity, in fact, saved the Tigers’ season, which was in jeopardy after the entire varsity squad had to quarantine for the first two elimination games of the district tournament due to the coronavirus. The JV stepped up in those games and pulled off unlikely victories over varsity squads from Jefferson and Sumner.
Then the varsity Tigers proceeded to win three straight regional playoff games on the road, trailing at halftime of each one.
The Tigers again found themselves down Thursday, trailing 23-16 at intermission.
“But we came out in the third quarter like we have in the playoff games and played better,” said Goldman, in his 35th year at Jesuit, where he has made three state semifinal appearances and won a state title in 2013. “I am so proud of the way we battled. We just came up short today.”
Jesuit shot well from 3-point range, connecting on 11-of-25 attempts from beyond the arc. Senior Ryan Weir led the Tigers with 16 points, while Kai Ravenna had 13 and Delp nine.
“We left it all out on the floor,” Weir said. “We know we gave it everything we had.”