For a second consecutive season, the Stranahan Mighty Dragons Varsity Basketball team are heading to Lakeland, Florida in attempts to win back-back state championships.
Stranahan took down Gulliver Prep in the Class 4A Regional-Final thriller that involved several lead changes and big shots during the fourth-quarter. The final score was 58-54.
Coming into Friday nights showdown, Stranahan were once again underdogs to take take down the Raiders, who at the time held a 15-0 record at home.
Gulliver defeated Pine Crest 66-61 to move onto the Regional Championship and Stranahan took down the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 state champs in University School, 63-61.
Chayse Culpepper and Stranahan started off the gate with rapid ball movement, taking advantage of sloppy Gulliver ball movement.
The Mighty Dragons knew that face-guarding Senior Tony Sanders would shorten the Raiders offense to just Gabe Taylor and Diego Lamonica, that’s exactly what they did.
Gulliver rallied back from early struggles and cut the Stranahan lead to just 3 to end the first quarter with a score of 17-14.
In the second, Gulliver began to control momentum and adjust to the speed Stranahan, overcoming their deficit and turning it into another lead-change.
Gabe Taylor and Diego Lamonica made up for Tony Sanders early struggles, Taylor hitting contested threes and Lamonica working in the post
Successful shooting from Stranahan’s squad shortened Gulliver’s lead, ending half number 1 with a 31-28 lead for the Raiders.
Tensions arose between both teams, resulting in a technical-foul for Stranahan.
Taylor stripped a Stranahan defender and kicked it to Lamonica for an open dunk. However, Lamonica was shoved hard when he went up for the dunk, falling awkwardly.
Lamonica confronted the defender who pushed him, eventually causing a brief stop to the game as officials attempted to remote the situation.
Several lead changes occurred as the third quarter ended with a 41-43 lead for Stranahan.
The gym was full of excited and anxious fans, Stranahans cheerleaders and parents screaming at all times while Gulliver’s student section made it hard to even hear oneself.
Both teams were evened up at 47 with 3:38 to play until a game changing layup started a spark for Stranahan.
A 4-0 run gave the Mighty Dragons a 49-53 lead. Gabe Taylor made it a one possession game after going 1/2 from the line.
Gulliver couldn’t get an urgent defensive stop however, allowing Houston Culpepper to convert a layup to extend their lead to 5.
Gabe Taylor attempted a three-pointer but missed. Taylor was upset after the play, believing it was a foul.
Down 3, Tony Sanders was able to steal the ball and lay it in to make it a 54-57 game. Gulliver could Chayse Culpepper with 7.9 seconds for two free-throws.
Culpepper hit both, making it a 54-58 lead with 7.9 remaining. Gulliver couldn’t convert as time expired.
The Raiders were understandably emotional while Stranahan were joyful as they were “Back To Lakeland.”