TAMPA — Bartow held a one-point lead and time was ticking down — 12, 11, 10 seconds left — when Wharton guard Darin Green pulled up near the foul line and released the ball over a defender's fingers toward the hoop.
Bartow got the ball back with 9.6 seconds remaining and drove up the floor. The Yellow Jackets, however, never got off a shot against the Wildcats' furious defense. Players leaped into each other's arms as the raucous crowd roared.
Final score in a do-or-die Class 8A region quarterfinal: Wharton 51, Bartow 50.
"I knew when we got the ball back that last time (with 34 seconds remaining after Bartow passed the ball out of bounds) that I was going to make the last shot to win," Green said. "I just felt it. When the ball left my hand I knew it was good. It felt really good."
The ending was somewhat stunning to Bartow, which fought back mightily after trailing 29-13 at the half.
When the Yellow Jackets (16-12) took the lead 50-49 with 1:46 on the clock, the strong contingent of Bartow fans had whipped into a frenzy of cheering as loud as the home-team contingent.
"But then we made a couple of crucial turnovers," Bartow coach Terrence McGriff said. "We never quit. We kept fighting. But Wharton made the plays and the shot when it needed to. I have to give credit to Wharton."
Wharton (23-5) moves on to play in Tuesday's region semifinal at Winter Haven, which advanced after defeating Plant 60-53.
"We look forward to it because we want to keep on going," Green said. "That's why I knew I was going to make that last shot tonight. I had to make it. There was no other option."
Green finished with a game-high 20 points, but was strongly complemented by many teammates, including Ryan Anders (nine points), DJ Henderson (nine) and Gio Reyes (seven).
Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said he was proud of his team's resilience after the wild Bartow comeback.
"(Bartow) had us on our heels there for a moment but we didn't back down," Tonelli said. "When it came time we were confident and we executed and Green made the shot. What more can you ask for?"