Viera’s dramatic comeback falls short in closing moments as Hawks fall in regional quarterfinals

Viera High senior Manny Luma goes up for a shot int he fourth quarter of Thursday night's Class 6A regional quarterfinal against Winter Haven. Luma scored 11 of his 14 points in the final period as Viera cut what was once a 19-point deficit down to one with 43 seconds to play. However, the Hawks couldn't complete the comeback and lost to Winter Haven 65-62.

It was an incredible comeback.

But unfortunately for the Viera High boys basketball team, it fell short not once, but three times.

Trailing by 13 points with three minutes left in their Class 6A Regional quarterfinal against visiting Winter Haven, the Hawks went on a 12-0 run and had a shot to take the lead in the closing seconds, and two more chances to tie it just before the final buzzer.

None of them fell, and Viera saw its season come to an end with a 65-62 loss.

Junior guard Jalen Moreland hit seven 3-pointers and finished with 25 points to lead the Hawks (16-11). Junior Avery Keith hit four 3-pointers and had 14 points. Senior Manny Luma also had 14 points – 11 of them in the fourth quarter.

“I’ll tell you what,” Viera coach Logan Keith said. “I’m not happy with losing. None of us are. But the character of our team kind of showed in that fourth quarter.

“I think at one point, it was a 19-point deficit (in the second half), and for us to come back and have a chance on two possessions to, on one possession take the lead and on that last possession to tie the game and send it into overtime, that’s real commendable.

“I’m proud of our effort there. You wish you could have done that the entire game, but some lessons learned.”

Winter Haven (9-9) gave the Hawks trouble all night with a defense that trapped Viera ball-handlers and created turnovers that led to points. A number of mistakes were self-inflicted due to some passes that weren’t crisp and were stolen by Blue Devil defenders.

“That team is so long,” Keith said. “I bet you their wing spans are longer than they are tall. We don’t see that all the time.”

The Blue Devils also did a good job of controlling the boards and shot extremely well from the field.

Viera led 14-13 after the first quarter, but the Hawks were having trouble getting shots to fall in the second and Winter Haven was able to open up a 31-23 advantage at the half.

Those shooting troubles extended into the second half as the Blue Devils scored the first seven points of the third quarter to increase their lead to 15 points.

Viera would find itself down 50-31 in the third quarter before back-to-back 3’s from Moreland and Avery Keith gave the Hawks some momentum and the comeback was on as Viera stepped up its defense.

Trailing 63-50 with three minutes remaining, Viera got a basket by Qmari Phillips and a put-back by Luma to get the lead under 10 with 2:20 to play.

Another basket by Luma was followed by a scramble for a loose ball and a pass to Moreland, who nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 63-59 with 1:12 remaining.

Viera would get the ball back and Goffigan not only saved it from going out of bounds under the Hawks’ basket, he found Luma for an open 3-pointer that made it 63-62 with 43.1 seconds left.

Winter Haven inbounded the ball and inexplicably threw up a quick shot. Viera raced down the floor and threw up a contested 3-pointer that didn’t touch the rim and the Hawks were forced to foul.

“That’s on me,” Logan Keith said. “If I could go back and change something, I would have called a timeout right there and got us something going at the rim, or maybe getting a paint touch and kicking it out for a three.”

After Winter Haven’s Vintrell Moore hit a pair of free throws with 20.9 seconds remaining to make it 65-62, the Hawks missed a game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the key. Luma rebounded and Viera called time out with 7.9 seconds remaining. The Hawks got one more contested shot off, but it missed and Winter Haven came away with the win.

It was the final game for Viera seniors Luma; Goffigan; Kile Lyn; Blake Starrett and Tyler Cooley.

“Those seniors that are graduating, what a job they’ve done since we’ve gotten here as coaches,” Logan Keith said. “They won back-to-back district championships, back-to-back hosting the first-round of the regional tournament – and our region is one of the toughest in the state. There are no cupcakes in our region.

“The work that those seniors put in in two years is something they’ll be proud of for the rest of their life. I’m just happy to have gotten to coach them for two years.”

And for the players returning next season, they’re already eager to get back at it.

“We’ve got something to build off of,” Keith said. “The cool thing was, guys were talking about getting in the weight room next week. Basketball, it just kind of never stops.

“It’s February and there’s kids talking about getting in the weight room and investing for next year. That’s obviously a great sign.”