It was a great comeback. But when it ran out of steam, the Mariner Tritons ran out of luck.
The Tritons fell 64-59 to Palmetto in Monday's championship game of the Mariner Christmas Tournament at Frank Morris Memorial Gymnasium.
Mariner (10-3) got into a 20-7 hole after one quarter. The Tritons slowly chipped away at the Palmetto (11-1) lead, finally grabbing a 55-54 lead on Rodney Hunter's 3-pointer with just 2:11 to play.
From that point on, however, the Tigers went to the foul line and won the game.
"They knocked down the free throws," Mariner coach James Harris said. "It was reminiscent of our game in the region finals a year ago where we got down big, fought back, got the lead and the other team did what it was supposed to do, knock down free throws. We hope they don't, but they do."
Palmetto was 11-of-13 shooting free throws in the fourth quarter.
"Wow," Palmetto coach Reggie Bellamy said. "We got some big free throws out of Tre Clark and Jarrid Rhodes down the stretch.
"What a team," Bellamy said of Mariner. "They fought and they fought, and we're just fortunate to have an opportunity to beat that team right there."
Mariner's Hunter and Kris Carpenter were named All-Tournament, as were Stephen Saunders and Jarrid Rhodes of the Tigers. Rhodes was named tournament MVP. Also named to the team were Bryce Reed of Southwest Florida Christian Academy and Margens Desire of Estero.
Hunter scored 27 points, 16 in the second half. Carpenter added 16 for Mariner.
For Palmetto, Clark scored 16 points, Saunders and Rhodes 14 each and Jordan Young had 12.
"It showed that this team is on the cusp of doing great things," Harris said. "Of course, if we don't get down 13 and have to fight all the way, maybe we have some energy late, but I thought the moment was a good experience for us. That's what we want. Losing a game to a good team is never a bad thing - as long as it's not the last game.
"I thought this was a great high school basketball game."
Palmetto 20 11 10 23 64
Mariner 7 16 14 22 59
PALMETTO (64): Stephen Saunders 14, Tre Clark 16, Drake 6, Jarrid Rhodes 14, Jordan Young 12, Collins 2. 3-pointers: Rhodes, Young. Totals: 21 (2) 20-25 64.
MARINER (59): Darrett 8, Sillie 8, Kris Carpenter 16, Rodney Hunter 27, Deems 2. Fouled out: Darrett, Sillie. 3-pointers: Carpenter 2, Hunter 3. Totals: 23 (5) 8-13 59.