BRADENTON - Cole Hudson stood at the free-throw line, took a deep breath and visualized himself sinking the game-clinching free throws Thursday night. Nearly 13 hours earlier, he stood in the same gym shooting free throws with the rest of his teammates on the Bradenton Christian boys basketball team a half-hour before the start of school.
"I didn't think it would come down to that, me making two (free throws) to close the game out," Hudson said.
It's strange how the game of basketball often works. The guy struggling all year at the free-throw line is the guy expected to make two and send his team to the regional semifinals.
"When I went to the line I thought, 'swoosh,' " Hudson said.
Here's what happened: swoosh and swoosh.
Hudson's two free throws with one second on the clock iced Bradenton Christian's 73-69 victory against visiting Oldsmar Christian in the Class 1A-Region 2 quarterfinals.
The Panthers (21-9) host Seffner Christian (25-3) in Tuesday's semifinal.
Bradenton Christian, which has beaten Oldsmar Christian (15-10) in each of the past three regional tournaments, overcame a six-point deficit with 3:59 to play by scoring 13 straight points.
Muscle memory, BCS coach David Magley called it. His team has been involved in a number of close games this season. When it comes to crunch time, Magley said, his team knows how to crunch.
"This is the third year in a row they lost to us," Magley said. "I think that starts to be their muscle memory, losing close ones to BCS."
It could also have been Oldsmar's rotation, which for one brief substitution, consisted of the same five players all night. Christopher Perez, who scored a game-high 35 points, and David Minaya, who added 24, almost were enough offense to beat the Panthers. The pair are headed to Tennessee Tech on basketball scholarships, according to their coach, Rangel Minaya.
But a 3-pointer by Hudson cut Oldsmar's lead to three and started the comeback. D.J. Magley, who led BCS with 30 points, scored two baskets, the second a lay-in off an ally-oop pass from Jordan Negrin, to give the Panthers a 65-64 lead with 2:40 to play.
The Panthers' lead grew to seven with 40 seconds left, but Minaya made two shots, one a 3-pointer, to make it a two-point game.
That's when Hudson was fouled. There was only 1.2 seconds left. David Magley called timeout and told Hudson, "Be confident."
Midway through the season the Panthers began arriving at the school's gym at 7:30 a.m. on game day to shoot free throws. The drill is simple: make 50 before heading to class.
Hudson said he made his 50 and didn't give them much of a thought until he was at the free-throw line with the season in the balance.
"I really tried to relax," Hudson said. "I know those free throws are big, and I had to knock them down. I thought this is the reason I come here 30 minutes before school starts."
OLDSMAR CHRISTIAN (69) - Jacob Ammerman 0 0-0 0, Jordan Fair 2 3-3 8, Leonel Liriano 1 0-0 2, Ewarlyn Martinez 0 0-0 0, David Minaya 11 1-1 24, Christopher Perez 16 3-3 35. Totals: 30 7-7 69.
BRADENTON CHRISTIAN (73) - Robert Edwards 2 0-0 4, Michael Frey 5 0-0 10, Cole Hudson 5 2-3 13, Daniel Magley 0 0-0 0, D.J. Magley 14 2-3 30, Jonathan Negrin 1 1-1 3, Jordan Negrin 1 2-5 5, JoJo Wood 2 2-2 8. Totals: 30 9-14 73.
Oldsmar Christian 16 17 20 16 - 69
Bradenton Christian 17 14 19 23 - 73
3-pointers: Oldsmar 3 (Minaya 2, Perez); Bradenton Christian (Wood 2, Hudson, Jordan Negrin). Total fouls: Oldsmar 16; Bradenton Christian 9. Fouled out: Perez (Oldsmar). Technical fouls: None. Records: Oldsmar 15-10; Bradenton Christian 21-9.