Leesburg 70, Jacksonville Ribault 64
The Yellow Jackets (22-6) were 6A champions in 2011 after beating Cardinal Gibbons and were finalists in 2012, a game they lost, to Miami Norland. They’ll get another chance on Saturday against Cape Coral Mariner after a 70-64 over the Trojans of Ribault (22-8) on Thursday afternoon. Leesburg trailed 34-27 at the halftime break following a bleak 27% shooting performance from the field in the first two quarters. Juxtapose that with Ribault’s 46% shooting and the trend didn’t look so good for the Jackets. It was a tale of two halves though, as Leesburg showed their pedigree in the final two periods shooting 53% while Ribault went ice cold. It was Leesburg’s 25-16 third quarter that got them within striking distance, finishing the job in the fourth after an 18-14 margin in the final eight minutes. The Trojans were decisive winners on the glass in the loss, though. Ribault out-rebounded Leesburg 50-38, but were done-in at the charity stripe, hitting just 9-of-18, which ended up being the difference in the score ultimately. Ryan Wallace led Ribault in the loss with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Miles Wilson chipped in with 9 points and 11 rebounds. Leesburg put three players into double-figures with Keon Ellis’ 26 points and 11 rebounds leading the way. Lance Erving and Cordrayius Graham added 20 and 17 points respectively. Leesburg advances to the finals on Saturday at 12:30pm.
Cape Coral Mariner 64, Palatka 28
Senior PG Brandon Kostyk, part of the Tritons backcourt with his twin brother Sean, scored 15 points along with PF Amari Haynes’ 21 points to help get their squad to the finals. It is Mariner’s first title appearance since 1996, when Teddy Dupay and crew lost to Mainland 84-70. The Tritons were relentless in their pressure on Palatka’s guards, forcing turnovers and bad shots to jump to an 18-7 lead. At the break, Mariner had all-but put this one to bed with a 19-6 second quarter to extend their lead to 37-13. Mariner shot 52% in the first half while Palatka was in a downward spiral both mentally and physically, managing just 22% on 5-of-22 from the field. Things got *only* a little better for Palatka, but the Panthers still finished with 23% shooting in the second half, scoring just one point in the final quarter due to a running clock. Palatka finishes the season at 22-9, while Mariner is still alive and kicking at 23-7. Game time is Saturday at 12:30pm. Witnessing a team score less than 30 points had only happened five times since 2000 in these finals, and within the last 24 hours, we managed to have two teams (Marianna’s 20 points on Wed) score in the 20’s. St. Petersburg were the last ones to claim this dubious distinction in 2012 vs. Blanche Ely.
Dillard 79, Ocala Vanguard 54
The Dillard Panthers out of Fort Lauderdale are headed to the Class 7A Finals on Saturday afternoon after an impressive performance against a very pesky Ocala Vanguard squad. The game was back-and-forth throughout the first two periods, with the Panthers clinging to a six point lead at the break. In that first half, the score was tied five times and the lead changed six times. That’s where this story turns from reality-borderline-dream, to a complete, unadulterated nightmare for the Knights. In the second half, Dillard (27-4) outscored Vanguard 48-19, including a 22-5 fourth quarter to put Vanguard out of their misery. The Knights (24-7) were without one of Florida’s most-heralded 9th graders, however. It was discovered before the game that 6-5 Power Forward Leonard Manuel didn’t make the trip due to missed practices, instead, choosing to focus on his AAU team. Head Coach Phillip Small decided enough was enough, and Manuel was left to wonder, “what if?”. Both teams shot lights-out in the first two periods, with Vanguard hitting at a 53% clip and with Dillard shooting 51-percent. Dillard continued that trend however, shooting 62% in the second half, while Vanguard struggled to just 35% on 7-of-20 shooting. While each team had players in double-figures. it was Dillard’s length and athleticism in the front-court that spelled disaster for Vanguard. The Panthers dominated in the paint by a 58-24 advantage and even more gaudy 28-4 margin in second chance points. Dillard advances to play Edgewater at 3:00pm on Saturday afternoon for the championship.
Edgewater 83, Lehigh 53
Louisville commit Anfernee Simmons lit up the scoreboard with 26 points as the Eagles soared past the Lightning from Collier County to advance to the 7A State Championship. Edgewater got to Lakeland last season, but were upended by Gainesville in overtime. Now, they’ll have the opportunity to make good on the promise they made themselves to get back to this point that they made once that game ended in 2016. Edgewater (23-8) jumped on Lehigh from the very get-go, pushing out to a 19-6 lead never looking back. Elijah Williams and Frank Foreman added 12 points and 11 points respectively. Only Jarvis Martin could hit the double-figure mark for the Lightning, who finish the season at 21-10. Martin’s night finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds. Lehigh shot just 29% from the field for the game, while Edgewater wasn’t exactly lighting the nets up, but finished with a respectable 47% total, after a 51% second half. As mentioned, the Eagles are on a collision course with Dillard on Saturday afternoon in what promises to be one of the best games of the week.
Orlando Christian Prep 78, Deltona Trinity Christian 48
The Warriors of Orlando Christian Prep (27-4) are champions for the sixth time since 2008, and in their third different classification at that, with three different head coaches at the helm. Four players ended up in double-figures for the Warriors with Christopher “CJ” Walker leading the attack with 18 points. The number sixteen was the order of the night as three players each contributed with that number. Those players were DeJuan Lockett, Nassir Little and Ronaldo Segu. Trinity Christian’s Amorie Archibald lit up the nets on Tuesday in the semifinals with 43 points, but was neutralized and then some as he finished the evening with just 14 points. The Eagles still ended up with three players in double figures however, as Kendall Merthie and Gabriel Mercedes added 11 and 12 respectively. Mercedes sent the crowd into a frenzy when he hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to keep TC within four as they headed to the locker rooms. It wasn’t meant to be, though. Orlando Christian Prep strutted back on to the court and within 8 minutes of gameplay had completed a 24-2 run to put the game completely out of reach. OCP finished the game with 56% shooting, while Trinity Christian (22-9) ended up with a paltry 31-percent.