It is just a short trip from the Source Hoops Hacienda to Wekiva High School in Orlando and that’s where we headed for Friday night’s regional final action. It was a match-up of #1 vs. #2 in Region 2 of Class 6A with Lakeland taking a journey up I-4 to Wekiva in Orlando. The game didn’t start until an hour later than the scheduled 7PM tip-off thanks to the traffic snarl that I-4 has become around the Orange and Osceola County borders. Lakeland finally arrived around 7:45PM and tip-off came fifteen minutes later.
Wekiva got on the board first with a pair of free throws from 6’4 junior Vophcy Prophet. Lakeland’s 6’2 senior and Navy football recruit Rolijah Hardy answered with a bucket on the break. After a Wekiva score, Lakeland reeled off six straight to take an early 8-4 lead but Wekiva drew back within one with a three from 5’9 senior Abiah Charles. Hardy responded for Lakeland with a four-point play which gave the Dreadnaughts a 12-7 lead with four minutes left in the first. Charles hit another three for Wekiva but four more points from Hardy made the score 16-10 in favor of Lakeland and Wekiva took a time-out. It didn’t help as Lakeland’s 6’2 senior R.J. Kelly knocked down back-to-back threes to give Lakeland a 22-10 advantage. Wekiva responded with a bucket inside from 6’5 senior Isaiah Bannister-Doucette and after one quarter of play, the top-seeded Mustangs of Wekiva were down double-digits, 22-12.
Wekiva opened the second quarter with a trio of threes; one each from Charles, 6’3 senior Austin Rolle, and 6’0 sophomore Darius Livingston. Lakeland finally broke its drought with a score inside but another three from Rolle tied the score at 24-24 with five minutes remaining in the period. You could feel the intensity in the gym ratchet up to another level and teams traded blows the rest of the quarter. As one might expect, the last team with the ball would have the lead and that is just what happened as the Dreadnaughts scored in transition just before the end of the half to give them a one-point, 33-32 lead.
Lakeland got off to a quick start in the third quarter. Derajah Hardy, a 6’0 junior, connected on a three and 6’1 senior Kamaurri McKinley hit three free throws on two separate possessions to push the Lakeland lead to 39-32. Livingston of Wekiva knocked down a three to get the Mustangs on the board, but after a bucket by Lakeland’s Kelly on the break, Wekiva took a timeout down 41-35 with 5:11 left in the third. Wekiva continued to battle uphill to cut its deficit and with little time remaining, Prophete hit one of two free throws to get within three, 48-45. That was enough time for Lakeland and Rolijah Hardy. He maneuvered his way up the floor, created space with his dribble to launch a three-point shot, and was fouled with one-half second left on the clock. Hardy drained all three free throws to give Lakeland a 51-46 lead going into the final period.
Wekiva scored to open the quarter but Lakeland quickly responded. Wekiva then got five straight points from an unexpected source in 6’4 sophomore Fanning Johnson as he hit a three and then a mid-range jumper to get to within one, 53-52. McKinley scored in a drive for Lakeland but a pair of free throws from Prophet again had Wekiva within one. After a free throw from Hardy, Wekiva tied the game at 56-56 with 4:30 to play on a Rolle bucket in the lane. Hardy knocked won a mid-range jumper to take-back the lead for Lakeland. Wekiva took its first lead since the opening moments of the first quarter after a free throw from Prophete and a mid-range jumper from Rolle gave them a 59-58 advantage. Prophete sank another free throw for Wekiva but Kelly of Lakeland connected inside to tie the score at 60-60 with under two minutes to play. Moving ahead with the score tied at 64-64 with fifty-two seconds remaining, Wekiva had the ball and Prophete drove to the hoop. He was fouled, made the first but missed the second to give the Mustangs a 65-64 lead with forty-one seconds left. On Lakeland’s next possession, the ball squirted loose and Wekiva’s 6’5 senior Malachi Hampton was ahead of the pack and looking to put an exclamation point on the game. Lakeland caught up to him just before he could elevate and fouled him with fifteen seconds remaining. He made both free throws to give Wekiva a 67-64 lead. After a Lakeland timeout, the Dreadnaughts missed their initial shot but a long rebound ended up in Hardy’s hands with a look at a three just before the horn. It was just off and Wekiva advances to the 6A Final Four in Lakeland with a thrilling 67-64 win.
Charles led Wekiva with 13 points while Rolle put up 12 points and Livingston finished with 11 points.
For Lakeland, Rolijah Hardy led all scorers with 28 points. Kelly added 12 points.