FROSTPROOF - The ecstasy of victory lasted for a mere moment for the Frostproof Bulldogs boys basketball team. The home crowd electrified as the buzzer sounded and the final desperate shot by Avon Park's Recarus Burley missed its mark.
But Burley was fouled on the play and calmly sank two free throws with .4 second left to give the Red Devils a dramatic 40-39 win in the Class 4A-District 9 championship game on Friday night.
"The ref that called the foul was right here," said Avon Park boys basketball coach Marty O'Hora, "I think I'm the only one that heard it. It was about a half second before the buzzer."
Just ninety minutes earlier, the teams were introduced and the tipoff started the third game that Frostproof and Avon Park played this year. Splitting the first two games, this was a rubber match that would decide the district champion.
The first 16 minutes amounted to a defensive dominated game as both teams struggled to put points on the board.
At the end of the first half, a total of 30 points were scored between the two as Frostproof went into the intermission with a 17-13 lead over the Red Devils.
"We felt that Frostproof was not a very good jump shooting team," said O'Hora. "So we did not want to play them on the perimeter at all. But what it did was put our kids to sleep a little bit and we were not aggressive on offense. We decided to press them up a little bit and that got our offense going. Even though we did not get a lot of turnovers, it did increase the tempo and allow us to attack the basket."
That change in tactics was instrumental as the Red Devils started the second half on a 15-2 run. With two minutes left in the third quarter, Avon Park held a 28-19 lead.
Frostproof adjusted at that point and scored 11 unanswered points that went into the first minute of the final period to take a 30-28 lead.
This became a precursor of scoring stretches by each team as Avon Park scored three to retake the lead 31-30 with six minutes left.
Frostproof bounced back with four points to put them back in front 34-31 with four minutes left.
The Red Devils trumped that with a seven-point surge as they led 38-34 with two minutes left.
The next minute and half became another defensive stalemate until Frostproof's Jaylyn McKinney drove the lane for a basket and was fouled.
He made the free throw to pull the Bulldogs within 38-37 with 28.8 seconds left.
Avon Park turned the ball over with 15.3 seconds left, allowing Frostproof another possession.
They missed their first shot, but Adrian Hadley scored his only points of the game after getting the offensive rebound and making the basket to put the Bulldogs on top 39-38.
After a time out, the Red Devils quickly brought the ball up the court with Brown driving the lane to his right and taking the shot. It missed as he landed on the floor, but was rebounded by Burley, who quickly put up another shot just before the buzzer sounded.
As Frostproof players and fans celebrated, the three officials huddled together.
What they discussed was a whistle blown for a foul committed by Frostproof on Burley a half second before the buzzer sounded.
"I was down on myself for a second," said Avon Park's Alfred Brown. "But I heard a whistle so I started to think that they called a foul. I was thinking, unbelievable."
They cleared the court, put .4 seconds back on the clock as the gymnasium became eerily quiet, pointed to Burley and sent him to the line to shoot two.
Burley bounced the ball in front of him, brought it up to shoot and let it sail perfectly through the hoop tie the game at 39.
He swished the second attempt for a 40-39 lead with .4 second left as chants were no longer heard from the stunned Frostproof fans.
Frostproof's desperation shot wasn't close to give Avon Park the hard-fought district title.
"It feels great to be district champions," said Brown.
Burley scored a game-high 12 points and Gus Owens added nine points in the win.
McKinney was the only Bulldog to reach double figures in scoring with a team-high 10 points in the loss.
Frostproof, as the district runner-up, will be on the road Thursday to play Class 4A-District 10 champion Berkeley Prep in a regional quarterfinal.
With the win, Avon Park will host a regional quarterfinal on Thursday against Tampa Catholic.