LAKELAND – The drought is over. For the first time since 1982, a Hillsborough County public school is a state champion in boys basketball. With a 51-45 victory, Sickles (29-4) did the unthinkable and beat an extremely talented—and game Lincoln (24-4) squad.
The Gryphons also continued their trend of playing masters of defense, limiting the Trojans to 45 points, their worst total since a loss to Tallahassee Godby, when they scored only 38. It didn’t come easy, especially when Lincoln quickly jumped out to score 19 points in the first quarter, putting the Gryphons in an uncomfortable situation.
Both teams shot an efficient clip from the field during the opening period, Lincoln going 8-of-12 while Sickles shot 7-of-14.
Even though it had been a wild first quarter, Sickles Head Coach Renaldo Garcia was content with the results. “I kind of liked where we were, I thought our guard, Marcus Cohen, did a great job of attacking and getting his teammates involved. I think our defense did eventually show up. I think we ultimately did a great job of stopping their big guys and contesting their shots on the outside a bit more,” Garcia said.
All of that offense would come to screeching halt in the second quarter. Sickles’ defense got back to being what it normally is, something akin to a Big East Conference team a la mid-to-late 80’s, allowing just eight points in that frame, as they cut the lead to two through two quarters. No player on either side had more than ten points by that point, however.
Both sides were neck-and-neck through the third quarter, but Sickles found themselves tied with the Trojans at 38-38 at the end of the third. Sickles’ Bryce Beamer finally cracked the ten-point mark in that quarter, and by that point in the contest, there had been 15 lead changes.
Cohen dropped in a free throw to begin the fourth quarter, however the more impressive thing was Cohen’s leadership on the floor. At times, he was a true floor general and completely took over the game.
“Yesterday, I really just didn’t play my best game,” Cohen said. “Coach told me to relax today and that helped. Overall, it was special being the point guard over the past four years, and I really made sure we played our style of basketball today.”
Lincoln continued to foul to try and keep themselves within reach, but Sickles made their free throws when they got to the stripe, which is what championship-caliber teams do in those situations. As time wound down, Beamer made a tough lay-in and followed up with the resulting free shot. That put Sickles up five with a minute to go in the game to effectively seal the result.
And that, was exactly all they would need.
Beamer finished with 15 on the evening as Sickles avenged their state championship loss from 2010 with the victory. For Garcia, emotions were high, as he was visibly shaken by the magnitude of the game.
After the game, an emotional Garcia said, “I was actually at that game when Plant City won. My father, who’s now in his late 80s, took me to this state championship every year since I was three, four, years-old so I have a lot of history with this tournament. With him just being here, watching us win it, with me as the coach has to be one of the most special things about this night.”
“We came into this game with very little knowledge on Lincoln. We’ve got a very good team but we’re not here year in and year out, so watching Lincoln the other night was really our first look at them. It’s hard to get a feel on their style, we found some videos and such to learn a little bit more, but we just really didn’t know much about them. We wanted to really focus on ourselves and taking care of the ball.” – Garcia on preparing for Lincoln.
“Every day, we practice free throws. Before we get water, we would always take free throws. So to step to the line for that, I was calm because it felt like an everyday thing for me.” – Beamer on his final free throw with one minute to play.
“Nah, it all just really just hasn’t sunk in at all,” – Cohen, Beamer, Bryce Workman, and Denari Garrett.