Tommy Tonelli celebrates his second region championship Friday night. (Photo: John C. Cotey)

When you play a great basketball game for Wharton’s Tommy Tonelli, you will receive praise, a high five and maybe even a hug from the coach.

When you play arguably the greatest basketball game for Tonelli, you get something even better.

The Griddy dance.

Yes, Wharton was that good Friday night, beating Sumner in the Class 6 region championship by a resounding score of 50-11 and turning in a defensive effort so impressive that even old school coaches like Tonelli are compelled afterwards to perform the latest dance craze at center court in front of his joyous players.

The win propels the Wildcats (28-2) to the state final four for the first time since 2013, and only second time overall. Wharton will play Martin County Thursday at 6 p.m. at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland in one 6A semifinal, with Winter Haven and Ponte Verde squaring off in the other semifinal.

The Griddy dance. (Photo: Charmaine George)

While the Wildcats were expected by most to win Friday’s game, no one envisioned holding Sumner to 11 points. Three Wildcat players — Trevor Dyson, Chandler Davis and Lucean Milligan — each scored that many or more by themselves.

“That’s amazing,” said senior Carlos Nesbitt, who scored 10 points for the Wildcats. “We pride ourselves on our defense, and tonight we just executed the game plan. That’s what we do, we’re known for our defense.”

But, 11 points?

Trevor Dyson takes on four Stingrays for two of his team-high 13 points. (Photo: Charmaine George)

“I don’t know if we expected that,” said Dyson, a senior forward who led the Wildcats with 13 points and had a huge game on the boards.

This is the kind of night it was for Sumner: After guard Tyrell Smith took a pass along the baseline and swished a tough fall away jumper over the outstretched hands of a Wharton defender to give the Stingrays a 2-0 lead, Tonelli turned to one of the referees and said “If they keep making those kind of shots, we’re in for a long night.”

Sumner made only four more baskets all game.

The 11 points were the fewest ever allowed by Wharton in a playoff game, and was 27 points less than Sumner’s worst game of a season, a 45-38 loss to Bloomingdale, whose coach, Wharton hoops legend Shawn Vanzant, might have learned a few things about defense in his time as a Wildcat.

Wharton came into the game allowing only 44 ppg. In three state playoff wins, they are allowing only 28.6.

After Sumner’s game-opening basket, Wharton scored the next 12 points as Dyson hit a three-pointer, Davis blocked a shot and got the ball back on the break for a lay-in, and point guard Trent Lincoln found Nesbitt for an alley-oop jam.

Tonelli said it was the best game of Nesbitt’s career.

“He did everything on both ends of the court, things you don’t even see,” Tonelli said. “He was the unsung hero.”

Following a Sumner basket to make it 12-4, Wharton went on another run, this time scoring the next 14 points, including three consecutive three-pointers in a span of 2 minutes, 30 seconds in the second quarter by Milligan, twice, and Davis.

And the rout was on. By halftime, the Wharton lead had ballooned to 30-6.

“The three-pointers got us hyped,” said Davis. “And on defense, we just locked them up. They had six points at halftime, and we were hitting our shots. They’re a good team, but we played great defense.”

Even with a 30-6 lead, Tonelli says the Wildcats were taking nothing for granted. However, Sumner only scored twice in the second half, and didn’t even score in the fourth quarter, missing all 13 of their three-point attempts for the game.

Tonelli hugs his wife Kristin after the Wildcat win. (Photo: Charmaine George)

It was easier than Tonelli thought it would be. The night before the game, he woke up in a full sweat, and had to get up and change his clothes. The game, and the quickness of the Sumner guards and its height in the post, was weighing so heavily on him, his wife Kristin said she thought he might be having a heart attack.

But she also said it was nothing new. Tonelli is the ultimate tactician, and had prepared non-stop for the Stingrays.

“We watch film every day ,” said Lincoln, the point guard. “We probably watch more film than anyone. We knew their plays. We knew what was coming. We were prepared. We have to thank coach for that.”

Dyson and Nesbitt, a pair of 6-4 forwards, controlled the boards, despite going up against Christian Henley, listed as a 7-footer, and 6-5 D.J. Jones.

Henley was shut out, and Jones had a single basket.

“The coaches told us we were going up against some tall players,” said Dyson, smiling. “But I wanted to show them who the big dog was.”

The last time Wharton won a regional championship, the Wildcats needed a miracle. After making Wharton’s C.J McGill made a free throw with six seconds left, Orlando University rushed down the court and hit a three-pointer from the corner as the buzzer sounded. After a huddle by the officials, a few moments that Tonelli says were the most agonizing of his coaching career, they determined the shot was taken a micro second after the clock expired.

Friday’s win was almost anti-climatic.

“I’d rather win a game this way,” Tonelli said, a wide grin flashing across his face.

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