Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of 24 articles published by The Apopka Voice in 2017 that were among the most noteworthy. We will post all of them beginning today and ending on Sunday, December 31st. Then on Monday, January 1st we will poll our readers and let them decide which story is Apopka's biggest story of 2017.
The Wekiva Mustangs boys basketball team won 15 of its last 17 games to advance to their first 8-A basketball state final. Here are the articles published detailing their semifinal win over Miami South, and their loss in the finals against Osceola High School.
The Wekiva Mustangs kept their storybook season alive with a torrid second-half performance in route to a 73-59 semifinal win over the South Miami Cobras. The win sends Wekiva (26-5) to the 9A state championship game against the winner of the Osceola-Wellington semifinal game later this evening. The finals will be tomorrow night at 8 PM at the Lakeland Center. This is the Mustangs first appearance in the state championship game.
Senior Wekiva center Paul Reed was again the immovable force on both ends of the floor for the Mustangs. Reed poured in 28 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and was the driving force in Wekiva's 45-point second half.
Early in the third quarter, Wekiva broke open a 30-30 tie when they ran off 10 straight points, seven of which were Reed's including a missed dunk rebound that he put back up, scored, was fouled and hit the free throw to make it 40-30 midway through the third quarter. The Mustangs extended the lead to 13 before the Cobras rallied to within five points at 60-55 with 4:15 remaining in the game, but Reed's length of the floor driving layup and made the free throw off the foul extended Wekiva's lead to 63-55, and they never looked back with 4:06 remaining.
Senior point guard Ezacuras Dawson led all South Miami scorers with 26 points, as the Cobras end their season with a 26-4 record. It was the fourth appearance in the 9A final four for South Miami in five years.
Along with an inspired offensive effort in the second half, Wekiva can also credit a full-court pressing defense that contributed to 15 Cobra turnovers. Wekiva also had 15 turnovers but overcame them with 27-29 free throw shooting.
The win was Wekiva's sixth straight, and 15th out of their last 16 games.
The Wekiva Mustangs storybook season fell just short of a happy ending. Despite a furious second-half rally that cut a 16-point deficit down to two, the Mustangs fell to the Osceola Kowboys 59-47 in the 9A state championship tonight at the Lakeland Center.
Senior Wekiva forward Paul Reed, the star of the semifinal game, scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds despite being covered by multiple Kowboy defenders who pushed, shoved and played an extremely physical style of defense on him. Reed had 28 points and 13 rebounds Friday night in the Mustangs 73-59 victory over South Miami.
The Mustangs were snake bit to start the game, falling behind 7-0, and not scoring until 4:10 elapsed in the first quarter. Finally, Reed ended the draught when he made a reverse layup after missing two shots and claiming his own rebounds both times. Osceola maintained that seven-point lead at the quarter's end 13-6.
In the second quarter, the Kowboys used full-court pressure to disrupt Wekiva's offense, holding them to only eight points as they outscored the Mustangs 14-4 in the last five minutes of the half to take a 28-14 lead to intermission.
However, the Mustang offense came alive in the third quarter.
Trailing 32-16 two minutes into the second half, Wekiva rifled-off eight straight points and outscored Osceola 19-9 in the quarter to cut the lead to 37-33 to put them within striking distance coming into the fourth quarter.
In that final quarter, the Mustangs cut the lead to two points three times (the final time at 40-38 with 5:10 remaining in the game), before Osceola employed a deliberate, four-corner offense and patiently pulled away. The Mustangs never led in the game.
Despite an intense, physical, full-court pressure defense by Osceola, they were only whistled for two shooting fouls, and after going 27-29 at the line the night before, Wekiva only managed 1-4 free throw shooting in the finals.
The Kowboys finished its season with a 29-2 record and claimed their second state title in school history.
Feature Photo Credit: Florida High School Athletic Association.