TAMPA- A gym on the edge of insanity was quieted after a final Wharton turnover with less than four seconds left ended a furious rally. Dr. Phillips (24-5) survived the Wharton (23-6) comeback and escaped with a 57-54 victory in the FHSAA 6A regional final contest.
The Panthers advance to Lakeland for the state semifinals. They return after advancing to the state finals in 2010.
The Wildcats came out tight from the tip and watched Dr. Phillips senior guard Shane Larkin control the game while scoring 11 first half points. The Panthers’ scored at will in the paint with junior forward Roderick Lawrence adding 12 before halftime.
Down 38-18, Wharton rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit. Wildcat senior guard, and all-time leading scorer, A.J. Astroth refused to let his team go quietly. He scored 17 of his game high 24 points in the second half, including 4 three point field goals.
Still down by 15 entering the fourth quarter, the Wildcats nearly pulled off a miracle. Trailing 55-48, with less than a minute to go, first Sir Patrick Reynolds hit a three pointer and then Astroth drains the trey with 17 seconds to go, sending the home crowd into hysterics. After two free throws by Dr. Phillips to restore a three point lead at 57-54 with four seconds to go, the Wildcat inbound pass found Astroth who landed with half a foot out of bounds.
The Panthers never seemed to lose composure during the Wildcat charge, but did appear to lose steam because of using only seven players in rotation.
Wharton lost the game in the first half, with Dr. Phillips scoring on 18 of 29 possessions before the break. Exhausted Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli gave Dr. Phillips their due after the game. “I totally give them credit, ..they’re well coached, they run great sets.”
Wharton got 10 points from senior Xavier Owens. The Wildcats were in tears after their season ended on their home court, a place they hadn’t lost all year.
Shane Larkin finished with 17 points, while Lawrence added 15 for the Panthers.