The Wellington High School basketball team ended their dream season last weekend, taking the state runner-up title after falling 71-60 to Orlando Oak Ridge.
The Wolverines arrived in Lakeland with an unblemished 30-0 record. Coming off the team’s regional title victory over Broward County’s Deerfield Beach, Wellington looked poised to make a run at the state title. In their way stood Miramar, known to be big and fast.
Wellington held the lead throughout the semifinal match and secured a halftime advantage 51-37, after a grueling fast-paced first half. The Wolverines pulled away, gaining momentum as the game wore on, leading by 19 with 1:27 remaining.
The Patriots put together a late rally, but it would not be enough to steal back the lead, and Wellington secured a berth in the state final with a 75-60 win over the Patriots.
“I’m so happy for these kids, they played so hard,” Wellington head coach Matt Colin said. “They’ve really been busting their butts, and I’m just so proud of them. We were able to do it on both ends, not only offensively, but defensively as well.”
Bryan Williams put up 25 points, two blocks and three steals. Linton Brown put up 20 points, and Jon Philistin is credited with 16 points, two blocks and a steal.
The Wolverines next faced nationally ranked Orlando Oak Ridge (30-4) in the title game, who had easily defeated West Orange 86-64 in their semifinal match-up.
The game darted off at a quick pace. The No. 1-ranked Pioneers went up quickly 10-2 after stand-out Robin Perry sank a three-pointer, forcing the Wolverines to call a time-out three minutes into the game.
Oak Ridge held the ball idle at mid-court for more than two minutes. “We talked about strategy,” Colin said. “Them holding the ball, give our starters a chance to rest, and Bryan got back into the game.”
Wellington’s tactics paid off, making two out of three free throws by Nicholas Toledo, after a foul, to close the period 17-10. Two turnovers cost the Wolverines from making it closer, but they still found themselves in a close game with Oak Ridge ahead 25-16 at the midpoint of the second period. The Wolverines pushed back with a three-pointer at the buzzer, but still trailed 39-28 at the half.
The Wolverines orchestrated a second half rally, getting to within four points of the Pioneers in the fourth period, trailing 49-45.
“Every time we gained momentum, they answered,” Colin said. “We knew what they would do, but stuck to our game plan to push Perry, but he still hit some tough shots.”
Wellington continued to press offensively, but could not stop the Oak Ridge response. The Wolverines saw their chances getting fewer as the clock ticked down. The Pioneers held an 11-point margin, winning the Class 9A state title 71-60.
“I’m so proud of this group,” Colin said. “We broke so many records and made school history.”
Toledo totaled 19 points, and Brown put up 17 points for Wellington. Perry had a career high of 32 points for Oak Ridge.
In the Wolverines’ five-year wake, the team has achieved South Florida supremacy by earning five-straight district titles, three regional titles, the 2015 state championship and the 2018 state runner-up title, not to mention a 31-1 record this season.
“I told the kids the only way any team can best their record is to go undefeated while winning the state championship,” Colin said. “That’s going to be difficult to do.”
Four of the Wellington starters will be playing in the Palm Beach County All-Star game on Saturday, March 17 at John I. Leonard High School at 7 p.m.