CRESTVIEW — Don’t look now, but the Crestview High School boys basketball team is one win away from returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1987.
Senior guard Ronnie Baylark hit a pair of free throws with two seconds left in Tuesday’s Class 7A region semifinals to give the Bulldogs a 67-65 win over Lincoln High School.
A desperation shot by the Trojan at the buzzer came up short to give the Bulldogs a third-straight 2-point win as time expired.
Crestview (22-7) hosts Oviedo at 7 p.m. Saturday in the region finals with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
On the line is just where Baylark wanted to be with the game hanging in the balance.
“Two seconds left, that’s a dream,” he said. “You win it at the free throw line.
“Two seconds left and I have to make the free throws. All I had to do was relax (and make the shots).”
A Jerry Aaron 3-point basket with 5:39 left in the first quarter gave the Bulldogs a lead they would enjoy most of the game, but the Trojans (21-8) wouldn’t go away.
Lincoln stayed within six or eight points of Crestview most of the game before making one final push in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.
JaVaughn Powell hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter to pull Lincoln to within two points of Crestview with the score 65-63.
Kameron Mack tied the game with 14 seconds showing on the clock setting up the third wild finish for the Bulldogs in as many games.
With the clock winding down Bulldog Coach Greg Watson admitted he thought about calling a time out, but instead he let his team play.
“We had numbers (on the inside) and the ball got tipped around,” he said. “Ronnie did a great job because he could have easily just shot it (from long range).
“He took it to the rack (the basket) and he made a play and almost made an and one (basket and free throw), and got hit and then stepped up and made two pressure free throws. It’s a big credit to him for not settling (for the longer shot) and attacking the basket.”
Aaron led the early Crestview charge scoring 10 of his team-high 22 points in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs led 21-13 at the end of the first quarter and 32-25 at the half. Crestview was still up by seven points as the teams took the floor for the fourth quarter.
Powell wasn’t going to make things easy for Crestview as he scored 24 of his game-high 31 points in the second half. Powell scored 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Trojans kept battling.
The Bulldogs made just three field goals in the fourth quarter, but were 15-of-20 from the free throw line, which was enough for the win.
Aaron was joined in double figures for the Bulldogs by Baylark, 17 points and Denzel Ware, 11 points.
Bulldog senior Josh Hinton found it hard to believe Crestview won another tight game.
“You can’t think of anything like that,” he said. “This is mind blowing.
“The last three games we have beat the other team by two points. Two of them have been buzzer beaters and one was a missed last-second opportunity from them.”
Watson said his team is resilient, but beyond that he was at a loss of words to describe what he has witnessed in recent weeks other than to praise the players.
“I don’t know what it is (that will to win), but players make plays,” he said. “I give all the credit to my team. It’s nothing I’m doing.
“It’s just the guys playing hard and doing what I asked them to do. It’s more about just playing hard and giving that effort and having that will to refuse to lose.”
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.