The Wellington High School boys varsity basketball team relied on a half court three-point buzzer-beater shot from junior De’ante Perez to defeat Cypress Bay High School in Weston on Friday, March 1. The last-second heroics sent the Wolverines to the state tournament for the third straight year.
The score was tied 37-37 with only three seconds remaining in regulation, and the Wolverines were forced to play defense after controlling the ball for nearly a minute and a half. Perez leaped in front of a Cypress Bay pass at half court and launched the winning shot, catching all net to lift the Wolverines up 40-37.
“Coach said, ‘Whoever gets the last shot, believe in yourself.’ That’s what I did. I shot it, and I believed in myself,” Perez said about the final seconds. “I’m a shooter, so I shoot those a lot. I’m just thankful for the position I’m in, and my team is going to states now.”
The Wolverines struggled offensively early on, despite putting up the first points of the game. Deep into the first period, both teams sported single digits on the scoreboard, as the Lightning led 7-5. Cypress Bay extended its lead to 11-5 by the end of the first period. Both teams played solid defense and continued to battle on the court.
In the second period, Wellington seemed to regain some poise, and eventually challenged for the lead. Linton Brown, who finished with 19 points on the night, led the Wolverine rally to take them on a six-point run to tie the game at 11-11. Brown came up big again seconds later when he forced a turnover and had a clear lane for the rim. He leaped up for a two-handed dunk to give the Wolverines the lead, 15-13. The lead would change twice again before the end of the first half, but Wellington held on 21-19 going into the locker room.
“There is great heart on this team,” Brown said. “My mentality is always just kill. I know they can’t guard mess, and I might as well just go in there and score and take my team on my back if I have to. I just want to win at the end of the day.”
Wellington came out in the second half with momentum, extending the lead to 25-19 early in the third quarter. Cypress Bay punched back to get within a point with 48 seconds remaining in the third. The lead changed again twice in the final seconds of the third period. The Lightning forced a turnover and then dunked to take the lead, and Brown put the Wolverines back in front with a shot to lead 31-30.
The drama did not let up in the final period. The lead continued to change sides as the two teams went head-to-head. The Cypress Bay crowd did not make it easy for the Wolverines, but the limited fan base seemed to add fuel to the fight.
With the game deadlocked at 37-37, a botched possible game-ending score play for Wellington gave Cypress Bay the ball with three seconds left. Perez jumped in front of a pass and made history with his shot. The swooshing game winner silenced the shocked home crowd and sent the Wellington bench into jubilation.
“It just shows you how good these teams are when you make it to the regional finals,” Wellington coach Matt Colin said. “This is one of those old school backyard brawls that nobody wanted to lose. We were just fortunate to have that last possession the way it worked out.”
The Wolverines have won six straight district titles and three consecutive regional crowns. They now head to Lakeland to the state tournament for the third straight year. They take on Orlando’s Evans High School in the state semifinals on Friday, March 8 at 6 p.m. The winner will play in the state finals on Saturday.