The first half was a nightmare. The second half was practically a dream come true.
But in the end, even after the Wharton High boys basketball team nearly erased a 20-point deficit in falling to No. 2-ranked Orlando Dr. Phillips 57-54 in Saturday night's Class 6A-Region 2 final, Coach Tommy Tonelli said he couldn't be more proud of his team.
"We almost got it done,'' said Tonelli, whose program is 0-2 in region finals. "We showed a lot of fight, a lot of character. We fell short. It's a difficult moment for the seniors, but we came a long way."
Wharton (23-6), which never led, was trailing 9-0 in the blink of an eye and 38-18 at halftime. The Wildcats fought back furiously behind the long-range shooting of AJ Astroth (24 points), closing the game on a 14-4 run.
DePaul-bound Panthers guard Shane Larkin - son of Barry - committed two turnovers in the final minute. Astroth buried a pair of 3-pointers, cutting the lead to 55-54 with 14 seconds remaining.
Wharton had an opportunity when Isaac Lane missed a one-and-one opportunity with 9.8 seconds remaining. Wharton's Chase Litton grabbed the rebound, but threw it away while falling down. Lane was fouled, but hit two free throws this time.
The Wildcats' final chance was negated when Astroth stepped on the line while catching an inbounds pass with 3.1 seconds remaining.