Everyone on Plantation American Heritage’s sidelines bounced up and down in sync as the final seconds ticked away on the Class 5A girls’ basketball championship Saturday.
They were “the toughest four minutes” of Greg Farias’ career, the coach later said, and they were almost over. He couldn’t wait until they were. Once again, it was about time to celebrate in Lakeland.
Sydney Shaw leaped into Farias’ arms when the 41-36 win against Melbourne Palm Bay was complete. Taliyah and Tatyana Wyche rushed to their father, and Bennett Wyche wrapped each one of his arms around their 6-foot-2 frames. He was wearing a customized shirt with each of his daughters’ faces printed on it.
The Wyche twins, his T-shirt proclaimed, are “double trouble.” It touted the post players as three-time state champions. It’s time to make new ones. American Heritage’s four-peat is complete.
“It’s the perfect way to end your high school career,” said Tatyana Wyche, who finished with seven points and 13 rebounds. “My last game is our best game.”
The Wyche twins won state championships in each of their four seasons with the Patriots. Guard Daniella Aronsky, the third senior in the starting lineup, finished her career with four straight, too.
Before those three began high school, American Heritage had never won a state title. Now the Patriots are one of only 19 teams with four.
To get there, American Heritage (25-2) first had to weather its ugliest performance of the postseason. The Patriots won their 5A semifinal Thursday at the RP Funding Center by 37 points and won their first four playoff games by an average of 31.3.
At halftime Saturday, American Heritage was tied 17-17 and it trailed 20-17 midway through the third quarter after a 9:48 scoring drought. The Patriots had no choice but to win with their defense.
“I’m OK with grind out,” Farias said. “That’s the style of basketball that we believe in.”
In the preseason, Farias proclaimed this as his most talented team yet. The Wyches both signed national letters of intent with the Florida Gators last year. Shaw has had a scholarship offer from the Miami Hurricanes since she was in middle school. Joey Delancy, another junior, already has an offer from the FAU Owls.
American Heritage had the ability to win with high-level shot making. Farias still emphasized a culture of defense, though. It was what had helped less talented teams win the last three championships.
With the offense struggling, Shaw told her coach she understood. Even after the long drought, the Patriots only trailed Palm Bay (23-4) by three and they retook a 29-24 lead at the end of the third by holding the Pirates to just seven points in the quarter.
“If we didn’t buy into the system of playing defense and playing hard,” Farias said, “we would’ve lost that game.”
American Heritage, ranked No. 12 in the nation by MaxPreps, shot just 28.2 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three-point range, but it held No. 44 Palm Bay to 34.1-percent shooting, too.
With 5:23 to go, the Pirates cut the Patriots’ lead to 32-30 and then American Heritage shut them out for the next 4:40 to rebuild a 39-30 edge.
After giving up back-to-back three-pointers in the final minute, the Patriots sent Taliyah Wyche to the free-throw line with 18 seconds left. She sunk both to finish with 14 points and get American Heritage’s lead back up to 41-36.
The Wyches never knew a season ending without a state title. Aronsky, who has been at the school since eighth grade, was there before the ran began, though. Her first season ended with a loss in the final four and a hint of what was to come.
When the run began, Aronsky and the Wyches were supporting players. Now their legacies are flawless.
“I saw the seniors go out crying and all that in the end,” Aronsky said, “but we’ve been able to work hard every season to come out with the win.”