By John Morton
The Wesley Chapel boys basketball team is playoff bound, but for the second straight year it must take to the road in the quest for the program’s first state title.
The Wildcats (24-4) suffered a 68-61 setback to Hudson (18-10) in the Cobras’ home gym on Feb. 11 in the Class 5A-District 8 championship.
“We really didn’t play very well, but I think better days lie ahead and our best basketball is still to come,” said Wesley Chapel coach Doug Greseth.
The Wildcats maintained a lead until late in the second quarter, but fell behind by as many at 16 points in the fourth. Jamal Branco poured in 36 points to put Hudson on top of the No. 1 seeded Wesley Chapel.
Erik Thomas, who led the team with 26 points, and Julian Vann, who added 10, fueled a late comeback that got the Wildcats to within five with 3:35 to play, but Branco hit two free throws to ice the game with 30 seconds remaining.
“Our kids fought back hard, which showed a lot, but give (Hudson) credit for building that lead and holding it,” Greseth said. He then added, “We got into foul trouble late in the half and guys were tired. That was probably the turning point in the game.”
An array of turnovers plagued the Wildcats all night, as did problems converting down low.
“We made some uncharacteristic mistakes and missed an awful lot of layups,” Greseth said. “That’s not like us.”
Despite scoring 26, Thomas found the going tough in the paint, as the Cobras held him to two first-half field goals.
“The one thing we have, and maybe as much as anyone in the county, is length,” said Hudson coach Jason Vetter. “Thomas is going to get his points because he’s that kind of a player, but we bottled him up and didn’t let him control the game.”
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