Senior Ernest Ross hit a shot with 7.2 seconds to play to give Santa Fe (Alachua) a 51-49 win at Lake Highland Prep (Orlando) in an FHSAA Class 4A Region 2 Final.
With the win, the Raiders (19-5) advance to their first state semifinal since 2002.
“That was a monkey off my back,” said Santa Fe coach Elliot Harris. “This is a great feeling. I’ve been coaching at Santa Fe High School for 20 years. I was on Rick Swain’s staff, Tony Wise’s staff, Scott McDaniel’s staff, and I finally get my opportunity.”
Early on it appeared the Raiders wouldn’t get that opportunity as Lake Highland Prep raced to a 16-5 lead in the opening quarter.
“It’s nerves,” said Harris, who noted Santa Fe missed four layups and six free throws in the first half. “I called a timeout and said, ‘listen, just settle down. We’ve got a long time. We’re going to make our run but we have to settle down and execute our stuff.'”
Senior Cayvian Wakeley scored seven of his 13 points in the second quarter to help the Raiders get within one at the half at 28-27.
“Cayvian played his tail off,” Harris said. “He played within himself and played to his strengths. He found his niche tonight.”
Santa Fe trailed the entire first half and didn’t take their first lead until there was 3:25 to play in the third quarter on a dunk by Ross.
The North Carolina State signee finished with a team-high 20 points. He scored 12 of those in the decisive fourth quarter.
“Man, Ernest decided that he did not want to lose,” Harris said.
Ross gave the Raiders a 40-38 lead early in the fourth quarter and also a 44-41 lead a few possessions later.
“I’m so excited,” Ross said. “This means a lot. I didn’t get the chance to go the last three years so I’m excited to bring it back to Santa Fe.”
Junior Jared Berry, the younger brother of 3-time Mr. Basketball Joel Berry II, finished with a game-high 21 points. Senior Miles Stewart had 16 for the Highlanders (13-8).
“It was a great, great classic playoff game,” Harris said. “The play at end (a lob pass from Dontrell Jenkins to Ross for the game-winner), I stole from the great Bobby Hurley and he said, ‘you’re going to win games with that,’ and it worked.”
Santa Fe will play West Nassau (Callahan) in the Class 4A state semifinals at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland on Thursday, March 4, at 10 a.m. West Nassau defeated Marianna, 72-70, to advance.