Admiral Farragut keeps composure in defeating American Heritage 66-57.
LAKELAND - Vitor Boccardo watched the final seconds tick away, waiting for the exact moment to show everyone just how confident Admiral Farragut was of winning its first state title.
After the final buzzer, off went the Blue Jackets jerseys, revealing white cotton T-shirts with "2004 Class 2A state champs" scrawled across the front in black marker.
Displaying a we-had-them-all-the-way attitude, third-ranked Admiral Farragut beat No. 9 Delray Beach American Heritage 66-57 at the Lakeland Center for the school's first boys state title in a sport other than cross country or track.
"Felipe (Schmidt) and myself stayed at Emery Anderson's house (Friday) night," said Boccardo, who scored 14 and was named to the all-tournament team. "We were talking about the game until we couldn't go to sleep. Then Felipe had this idea. He said, "I've seen them do this in soccer all the time when they score a goal they have this message on their shirts'.
"We all said let's do it. We knew we were going to win. We weren't coming over here to lose."
Such assuredness stems from the painful memories of a title that got away last season. In the 2003 Class A state semifinals, Admiral Farragut watched the lead disappear in the waning seconds to eventual champion Miami Northwest Christian.
"We grew from that," Blue Jackets coach Mike Wells said. "We took that setback and tried to find something positive out of it. We realized games aren't over until the last tick of the clock."
After that loss, the players vowed to make their title aspirations come true. Wells helped them prepare by putting together a schedule that included games against eight ranked teams.
"That schedule helped win us our championship," Wells said. "We went in some real hostile environments, played and it was a great learning experience for us. This was very easy today. It's real tough going to Miami Monsignor Pace and playing in their gym on a Friday night or Northwest Christian or Winter Haven. This was mild today."
Admiral Farragut, though, did have some anxious moments. The Blue Jackets (26-6) trailed 23-12 with six minutes left in the second quarter, but closed out the first half with a 19-6 run to take a 31-29 lead at halftime.
"We called a timeout and said, "We have to win the rest of the half,' "' Wells said. "We slowed it down and got the ball inside a little better. Then I believe Emery Anderson hit a 3 and Schmidt hit a 3 and we got back in the game."
The momentum carried over to the second half. Displaying their balance, the Blue Jackets scored with six different players to build a 46-37 lead. American Heritage (23-7) eventually cut the deficit to 52-50, but Admiral Farragut pulled away when Schmidt hit a basket and free throw.
Schmidt, who scored a team-high 15 to go along with six assists and three steals, was named tournament MVP. After the award was announced, Schmidt's father, former Brazilian star Oscar Schmidt, mockingly fainted in the stands.
"That was such a big accomplishment," said Felipe of being named MVP. "My dad was real proud. He's my biggest fan."
"You know the hard thing about this team is picking an MVP," Wells said. "We have so many kids that lifted us throughout the season. We had so many kids that had a piece of this victory.
"On any given night our leading scorer could be held to hardly anything the next night. I think that's the sign of a good ballclub. We have balance. That's probably why we won."