Sam Hester sat on the bench, arms resting on his legs.
Friday’s Class 8A boys basketball state semifinal at The Lakeland Center was the biggest game in Lakewood Ranch’s program history.
And the Mustangs’ all-time leading scorer wasn’t on the floor during the fourth quarter’s pivotal minutes.
Hester suffered an ankle injury with 2 minutes, 41 seconds left in the first quarter when he landed on a Sickles’ player’s foot after lobbing a pass back to a teammate.
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“If I could have given Sam my leg, I would have,” Lakewood Ranch head coach Jeremy Schiller said. “I don’t think he would have been as athletic as he is now, but I would’ve been happy to give it to him.”
Hester was helped off the court, had his left ankle taped and tried returning a couple of different times.
He began the third quarter in Lakewood Ranch’s starting lineup but departed to the bench early into the quarter and didn’t return.
His lone two shots came from 3-point range, and he airballed both. Hester’s final high school line: 0 points, one rebound, one assist, one turnover in 12 minutes, 27 seconds.
“I was limping. I couldn’t move,” said Hester, who finished his career with 1,232 points.
In Hester’s absence, Kodey Elliott was inserted and stepped up. He made two key buckets during a fourth quarter that saw Lakewood Ranch and Tampa Sickles trade leads in a seesaw battle.
“Kodey’s always been prepared,” Schiller said. “... I think Kodey doing so well is a sign of how strong a person he is. Most kids if they don’t play consistently or play all the time, they kind of take themselves out of it. Kodey was ready to battle for his teammates.”
Schiller said if Hester could have dragged his leg around the court, he would have. But Hester saw the bigger picture.
“Winning is a little bit more important to Sammy, and he knew that with that injury, he wasn’t going to be able to go full speed the whole time,” Schiller said.
Sickles head coach Renaldo Garcia said any time a team’s all-time leading scorer goes out, it’s difficult.
“That hurts your cause,” Garcia said.
Gryphons keyed on stopping Damien Gordon, who dropped 20 points, from tying the game in the closing seconds.
Denari Garrett’s two free throws iced it for Sickles.
Without Hester in the lineup, the Mustangs lacked a 3-point weapon. Hester entered Friday’s game making 37 percent of his 3-pointers, and he scored a team-high 24 points in last week’s region championship victory against St. Pete High.
“That takes away shots that we normally would hit,” Schiller said. “We’re an energy team. So if one hits one, the next one hits one and then all of a sudden you get a 12-point chunk and we get a big lead. We just couldn’t find our offensive rhythm.”