By Dave Brousseau
LAKELAND – In exactly one full calendar year the Stranahan High boys’ basketball team has done the improbable.
After taking the Dragons 62 years to hoist the championship trophy, they did it again on Saturday at the RP Funding Center by defeating Tampa Catholic 71-64 for the Class 4A state title.
Stranahan (24-9) did what may have seemed impossible. They became the third Broward County public school to win back-to-back boys basketball state championships, joining Dillard and Blanche Ely.
Chayse Culpepper scored 19 points to lead five Stranahan players in double figures as they rallied from a 38-29 halftime deficit.
“They doubted us,” Culpepper said. “They’ve been doubting us all season. But we stayed positive.”
It was all about the third quarter that changed the outcome as the Dragons began the comeback by outscoring Tampa Catholic 22-10 in the third quarter. They successfully overcame an 11-point deficit to owning a seven-point advantage following a Daquion Vickers dunk with 5:52 remaining in regulation.
For coach Terrence Williams it was a season long emotional ride following the passing of his mother over the summer.
“It feels great,” Williams said. “Again, Thursday I was saying I lost my mom in the summertime. These guys were with me when I got the news.
For me, I just had to keep everything in this whole season. These guys were pushing me and at times I was down, and I was out. Couldn’t really find the right focus at the beginning of the season.”
As a typical Stranahan game has gone most the season, the Dragons defense helped dictate the outcome.
Tampa Catholic (26-6) was held to 22-of-51 shooting from the field that included 6 of 26 on 3-point attempts. The Crusaders turned the ball over 21 times.
STRANAHAN 71, TAMPA CATHOLIC 64
S (24-9): Vickers 4-2-10, Squire 3-4-13, C. Culpepper 5-9-19, Legiste 5-5-16, H. Culpepper 6-1-13.
TC (26-6): Harrison 4-1-10, Elmore 1-0-3, Broome 7-6-20, Knox 5-4-14, Crutchfield 2-2-8, Bronson 1-0-3, Reid 1-0-2, Mitchell 1-1-4.
3-pointers: Squire 3, Legiste, Crutchfield 2, Harrison, Elmore, Bronson, Mitchell. Half: TC 38-29.