PALMETTO -- Neither Lakewood Ranch nor Palmetto took a smooth road to the Class 6A-District 12 boys basketball final.
Each team had its share of challenges and changes to overcome en route to Friday’s championship game and next week’s region tournament.
That trend continued in the title game, where the Tigers outlasted the Mustangs 61-54 in double overtime, a 40-minute roller coaster that bucked one convention after the other in front of roughly 500 fans.
Just when it appeared that fourth-seeded Lakewood Ranch was finished -- the Mustangs trailed by six with less than two minutes left -- it fought back. And just when it appeared second-seeded Palmetto was about to break, the Tigers hit a key shot or made a key steal to keep Lakewood Ranch at bay.
Consequently, the Tigers (14-12) jumped, hollered and hugged each other after the final buzzer sounded.
“It’s rewarding,” said coach Reggie Bellamy, a district champ in his first year at Palmetto. “These kids deserve so much. In the overtime, looking in these guys’ eyes, one of the things we talked about is the Tiger in Tiger Pride.”
Palmetto took a 48-46 lead in the second overtime on a layup by Shaquille Harris before triggering a 7-0 run thanks in part to its defense. Jordan Smith stole the ball after a Lakewood Ranch inbounds pass and fed Steven Sanders, who gave the Tigers 50-46 lead. Smith scored following a turnover seven seconds later before Harris converted a three-point play, giving Palmetto a 55-46 lead with 2:29 left.
“We didn’t want to lose,” said Harris, who had five points and a steal during the second overtime. “We were giving them too many chances, so we had to play better D.”
That the Mustangs (9-20) even saw overtime was a feat. They didn’t hit a fourth-quarter field goal until Zach Ange’s 3-pointer sliced Ranch’s deficit to 39-36 with 1:30 remaining. But Brian Cobb, who missed most of the season recovering from a torn ligament in a knee, netted a layup 15 seconds later, trimming the margin to 39-38.
Cobb struck again in the game’s final seconds, tying the game at 41 with 13.6 seconds left and picking up a foul. But he missed the ensuing foul shot, and Smith missed a long jumper at the buzzer to set up the first of two overtimes.
“It started Sept. 12 when we did sprints; it’s never an option to quit,” Mustangs coach Jeremy Schiller said. “We talk about, you do things the right way, you do the best you can, and everything’s going to fall where it’s going to fall. (On Friday) Palmetto did a great job and it fell their way. ... (But) we’re district runners-up, and we should be proud of that.”
Cobb had 19 points, and Chaz Grady had 18 for Lakewood Ranch, which came within 58-54 with 52 seconds left in the game. The Mustangs open the Region 3 playoffs Thursday at Tampa Sickles.
Smith had 22 for the Tigers, who host Dover Strawberry Crest in a quarterfinal.
“I tell you what, these guys were relentless, and they played with a sense of pride the entire night,” Bellamy said. “Sometimes, I think we got a little bit fatigued, made some mental mistakes. But on the other side of that, when it was all said and done, we found a way to be successful.”