OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee High School varsity basketball team has advanced to the regional final and has a chance to move on to the state tournament in Lakeland.
The Okeechobee Brahmans will take on the Pembroke Pines Charter Jaguars in the regional final at Okeechobee High School on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
Okeechobee advanced to the regional final thanks to a thrilling win in the regional semifinal over the Boyd Anderson Cobras on Feb. 25 at OHS.
The Cobras had a size advantage over the Brahmans and the Florida High School Sports Association ranked them seven spots ahead of Okeechobee in the state basketball rankings.
Despite the physical advantage, it was Okeechobee that came roaring out of the gate to start the game. The Brahmans took an 8-2 lead early in the first quarter thanks to a pair of three-pointers by Okeechobee senior Silas Madrigal.
Boyd Anderson played an aggressive full-court defense against Okeechobee that, for the most part, the Brahmans were able to work around with some quick passes. Still, the Cobras are highly ranked for a reason, and they were able to intercept the ball multiple times, often converting those turnovers into points.
Boyd Anderson briefly took the lead in the first quarter thanks to some timely takeaways and a momentum-building dunk that quieted the packed home crowed at OHS. But the Brahmans didn’t flinch and were able to ride the wave of momentum that the Cobras had started to build and regain a 21-17 lead at the end of the fist quarter.
Okeechobee kept the lead heading into halftime, in part due to a clutch three from senior De’nitrik Whittaker. Whittaker had a trio of three-pointers against the Cobras, but the biggest had to be his last in the fourth quarter.
Both teams took a 51-51 tie into the fourth quarter. With two minutes remaining in the game, the Brahmans had a slim 58-57 lead when Whittaker hit an absolute clutch shot from beyond the three-point line to make the score 61-57. The shot brought the Brahman faithful sitting courtside to their feet. The crowd’s reaction nearly blew the roof off the OHS gym.
To their credit, the Brahman fans were loud all game. During the regional quarterfinal, a loud and vocal contingent of supporters of Belen Jesuit made the trip to Okeechobee and sometimes were able to make as much, if not more, noise than the home crowd. But against Boyd Anderson, there was no competition. Despite the Cobras bringing in two busloads of supporters, the home crowd was as loud as it ever as been at OHS.
Boyd Anderson was able to pull within one point, 63-62, with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But Okeechobee senior Malcolm Kelly was able to hit both of his foul shots with six seconds remaining to put the Brahmans up by three, 65-62.
The Cobras had one more chance to tie the game, but the three-point shot went wide and the Brahmans won the game.
Malcolm led the Brahmans in scoring with 18 points, followed by Madrigal with 17. Madrigal also made five three-pointers against the Cobras. Senior Markeze Kelly had four steals and scored 13 points.