It was another tough night on the court. The defense scrambled. The turnovers were rampant. The Wildcats won anyway. They won it all, again.
Five players held the championship trophy up for the cameras just like last season, but this time they held up two fingers instead of one.
For the first time in team history, and the first time in Austin Rivers’ career, Winter Park has two state championship trophies in boys basketball thanks to a 52-44 triumph over Dr. Phillips. Adding insult to injury for the Panthers, it was their second time being downed by the Wildcats in the state championship game.
And once again, the spotlight was stolen by Rivers, who put on a full-court show, dropping 25 points in the net and grabbing 11 rebounds and four steals to help lead his team to victory.
Speaking before a mob of cameras after the game, Rivers said that everybody contributed.
“People stepped up,” Rivers said. “For all the people who said it’s a one-man show for us, clearly that’s not the case.”
A supporting cast of newcomers and longtime rivals came together to make the Wildcats’ second championship possible.
Two of the team’s key players hadn’t even worn a Winter Park uniform last season. One of them — former Winter Springs sharpshooter Austin Keel — had watched last season as his team became one of Winter Park’s victims en route to the championship. Not this time.
Keel’s teammate and fellow Winter Park newcomer BillyDee Williams gave the team some spark off the bench.
And in the closing minutes, the Wildcats widened the gap as the Panthers sputtered, hitting only 33 percent of their free throws.
“We made great plays when we needed to make them,” Coach David Bailey said after the game.
Now the Wildcats have closure on the final season for five starting seniors, but they may not be done just yet. Last season they were invited to the ESPN Rise postseason National High School Invitational.
Last year, only eight teams were invited on the boys’ side, two of which came from Florida. Winter Park made it to the semifinal round before being knocked off by No. 1-seeded Montverde Academy.