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Buzzer-beater dooms Tigers to heartbreak

CLASS 3A: Wesley Chapel forces overtime with long-range 3-pointer then hangs on for 77-75 win.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 9, 2003

WESLEY CHAPEL -- The Wildcats' team motto this season has been "We Believe," but the way Wesley Chapel earned a return trip to the state final four Saturday night put that to the ultimate test.

Eric Sorensen hit a 25-footer as time expired in regulation, and Wesley Chapel hit just enough free throws to hold on in overtime, winning a 77-75 thriller when Jesuit's last-second 3-pointer missed at the buzzer.

"Unbelievable," said Wildcats coach Kent Mills, whose team moves on to Lakeland having fulfilled a goal of finishing its season unbeaten at home. "The way we drew it up, it happened ... the boy stepped up and hit it. Momentum? It gave us life."

Senior guard Zach Mills scored Wesley Chapel's first seven points in overtime, finishing with a career-high 31. The biggest came after Jesuit's Joe Donoho hit a 3-pointer for a 71-70 lead with 2 minutes, 38 seconds remaining, as Mills hit a trey of his own, giving the Wildcats the lead for good.

A sellout crowd of more than 1,200 was treated to a Class 3A region final in which there were five ties in the fourth quarter and neither team led by more than four in the final 12 minutes. Sorensen's long-distance 3-pointer kept the Wildcats alive and kept Jesuit from making its first final four appearance in 18 years.

"We wanted to deny him, or at least make him take it from way further out," Jesuit coach Neal Goldman said. "That was what, 28, 30 feet? You pray it goes out, but he just made a tough shot."

Wesley Chapel, ranked sixth in Class 3A, also got 25 points from senior forward David Simpson, are the first Pasco County team in 37 years to play in back-to-back final fours.

It wasn't easy getting back. After Mills twice went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line for a 75-71 lead with 59 seconds left in overtime, Jesuit (25-6) pulled within a point twice, getting a three-point play from Clayton Yeko with 47 seconds left. Wildcats reserve guards Travis LeMaster and Chase Bussey each missed their first free throw but made their second in the final 23 seconds, and Alan Schonbrun's potential winner missed at the buzzer.

Schonbrun, who matched Donoho's 24 points to lead the Tigers, had three defenders on him but got off a shot that bounced off the back of the rim, nearly repeating the stunner at the end of regulation.

"We played our hearts out," Schonbrun said. "I was about to celebrate at the end of regulation, but it went in. We were playing catch-up the whole time in overtime, but (the last shot), it broke my heart."

Sorensen's 3-pointer was drawn up during a timeout with seven seconds left in regulation, calling for a triple screen to free him up at the top of the key. Mills inbounded the ball to LeMaster, who found Sorensen, who had scored only seven points before the shot that forced overtime.

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