By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. — No way April Fool’s Day was going to catch up with Link Academy (Branson, Mo.). The day after the most improbable upset in the history of the GEICO High School Nationals, the Lions would have none of that tomfoolery.
Link defeated upset-minded Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.), 59-53, Friday afternoon in the GEICO Nationals semifinals in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
The fourth-seeded Lions (33-1) meet third-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy for the GEICO Nationals championship on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Prolific concluded their season at 26-7 but registered the shocking win over No. 1 Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) on Thursday.
Link put together a 20-18 fourth-quarter showing and clinched it by making 7 of 8 free throws. Arkansas-bound Jordan Walsh scored 17 points, Trey Green had 13 (two 3-pointers) and Julian Phillips netted 11.
USC-bound Tre White led all scorers with 25 points, sinking all 10 free throws and Jordan Pope added 18 for the Crew.
Prolific pushed hard for another upset but it wasn’t happening with a savvy Link team on the floor.
Mor Seck gave the Crew a brief 43-42 lead after hitting two free throws with 6:22 left but Green drop in a scoop shot from close range and Omaha Billew finished off a fast break with a thunderous tomahawk junk that awoke the crowd and upped the score to 46-42 with just under five minutes.
Link could have put away Prolific late in the third quarter but White kept his team alive. Down eight points in the waning seconds, White dug deep to burg a long 3-pointer from the left corner to keep the game respectable at 40-35.
White opened the third quarter with foul-line jumper but Link rattled off the next nine points for a 33-27 advantage at 4:15.
The Crew clung to a 25-24 lead at the intermission. White and Pope both nailed 3-pointers in the final 2:20 to make it 25-19. White scored 13 points in the opening half for the Crew and Phillips had eight for the Lions.
Felix Okpara then hit two free throws and Trey Green swished a long 3 to bring the Lions within a point.
The Crew held an 11-7 edge through one quarter as White scored eight points and Pope drained a 3-pointer.
The Lions trailed early but took a 7-5 lead when junior guard Jordan Ross, looking to toss an alley-oop feed to the rim for Walsh but instead scored an accidental 3-pointer.