LAKELAND – If close calls and barn-burning action on the hardwood is what you sought at the RP Funding Center on Friday, then you left the arena with profound disappointment. That is, of course, if you were not one of the six teams that are moving on in their respective classes to play for a championship tomorrow. Through the first five of six games on the docket, the average margin of victory was 23 points including one running clock to start the entire day. Included in those blowouts on the day were a trio of Tampa Bay Area teams, who witnessed their dreams of rings go by the wayside. Hillsborough, Winter Haven, and St. Petersburg all suffered loses at the hands of Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee, Jacksonville Creekside, and Pompano Beach Ely in their respective games by the same average as the rest of the games on the day, 23 points.
Choctawhatchee 88, Hillsborough 52
In the largest margin of defeat of the day, it was the Indians running roughshod over the Terriers, who were making their first appearance in Lakeland since the 1996 season when they defeated DeLand in the Elite Eight and then lost to South Miami in the Final Four. It was Choctaw’s game to lose from the very onset, with the Indians jumping out to a 17-10 lead after the first quarter break, then extending that score to 44-29 going into the half. The Terriers looked as though they might get themselves into the game midway through the third frame, but as Hillsborough cut the lead to 11, the Indians promptly went on a 5-0 “mini” run to push that margin to 17 with a 1:30 on the clock and effectively squash any hope of a comeback for Hillsborough. The final statistics confirm what our eyes saw during the 32 minutes of action. When the dust settled after final horn, Choctaw held advantages in bench scoring (35-14), points in the paint (50-30), points off turnovers (38-11), and steals (11-3). The Indians shot 56-percent from the field in the first half, finishing at 47-percent, while HHS finished the game at 32-percent from the field and 28-percent from beyond the arc. Warren Mclymont led the Terriers with 14, while Christian DeLeon added 12. Diante Smith for Choctaw lead all scorers with 21 and led four players from his quad in double-figures. Hillsborough’s season ends with a record of 25-6, while Choctawhatchee will be seeking their first ever title in boys hoops with a record of 27-2 versus Doral Academy from Miami.
Doral Academy 52, Cape Coral 28
The Firebirds from Miami were making their first state finals appearance and playing just their 8th game in the postseason in school history, which dates back nineteen years. The Seahawks of Cape Coral were playing in just their 18th postseason contest since the school was built 40 years ago. Something, or someone, had to make history. Doral jumped out to a 17-4 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back using their motion halfcourt offense to create havoc on the defensive switch/assignment portion for Cape Coral. The Firebirds led 32-17 at the half, but then the two teams managed to combine for TWO points the entire third quarter. Those two points belonged to Doral however, which added to their margin pushing their lead to 14 by the final frame began. Doral efficiency on the offensive end of the court showed in the box score with Doral finishing the game at 51-percent from the field and 50-percent from beyond the arc in stark contrast to Cape Coral, who finished at 31-percent and 20-percent respectively. Kobbie Perez lead Doral and all scorers with 16, while Reggie Perez and Miguel Ayesa added 13 and 12 for Doral. Cape Coral finishes the season at 24-8, while Doral continues on to tomorrow’s 7A title game with a record of 31-2. In a unique stat, Doral’s Head Coach Jorge Fernandez is trying to become the second Stetson University Grad to coach their team to a state title this week. Westminster Academy’s Ehren Wallhoff got the ball rolling on Thursday winning the 4A Title.
Creekside 78, Winter Haven 59
The Blue Devils were certainly one of our most battle-tested teams throughout the entire region the last couple of seasons along with St. Pete, but in the end it was Creekside’s length and accuracy from point-blank range that led to a 74-percent shooting average for the Knights in the second half to the Devils’ 34-percent that sealed their fate. Keyshawn Bryant led Winter Haven with 25, but only one other payer reached double-figures (Dorian James -13) and five other players managed to combine for just 21 points. Creekside saw three players hit double-figures with Noah Lippy leading all scorers with 27. The Devils led after the first eight minutes 13-10, and the score was tied at 29 as the teams headed towards the lockers. The difference was the final 16 minutes for the Knights as they jumped out to a 12-point lead right out of the break. Winter Haven got the game back to within a few points just over a minute into the final period, but it was almost as if Creekside took offense to that and went on a run that took less than two minutes on the clock to push the lead back to double-digits and effectively close out Winter Haven’s season. The Blue Devils finish their season at 23-10, while Creekside faces Blanche Ely from Pompano Beach in tomorrow’s title game and extends their record to 27-4. The Knights are looking for the schools’ first state title in any sport.
Blanche Ely 73, St. Petersburg 58
These two teams are actually quite familiar with each other in recent history at this stage of the postseason, but the familiarity for St. Pete didn’t help this time around. It was not without a valiant effort from St. Pete’s Serrell Smith, who finished the game with 36 points. Had he received some more help from his teammates, things might’ve been different. Instead, a brutal metric was produced from the game. While Smith was singlehandedly keeping the Green Devils in the game, the rest of the squad was busy accruing more fouls (24) than points combined (22). On the opposite side, Ely got a balanced attack from their starters and sixth man. Of the six that saw action for Ely, half of them finished in double-figures led by Joshua Scott’s 26 points. Anthony Byrd added another 22, and Michael Forrest did his part with 18 points. The Tigers are seeking their sixth championship since 2007, and will be looking to win their third in the last four seasons under Head Coach Melvin Randall. The Green Devils finish their season with a record of 24-6, while Blanche Ely advances to play Creekside with a record of 23-8.
Oak Ridge 86, West Orange 64
In an all Orange County affair, it was the Pioneers waxing the Warriors from Winter Garden. While Oak Ridge may have nationally-ranked prospect Emmitt Williams on their side, his services weren’t needed nearly as much as anticipated with 6-6 senior guard Antwann Jones taking complete control by himself and putting up 30 points on the afternoon. Williams finished with 11 along with teammate Robin Perry. Niven Glover added 15 for the Pioneers, who are seeking their first state championship in hoops. KJ Simon added 20 for the Warriors in defeat, joined by JaMarcus Clark’s 10. The Pioneers got off to a fast start, much like the rest of the elite teams in action today, and never looked back taking an 18 point lead into the locker rooms at the break. West Orange won the second half on the scoreboard, but it was much too little, much too late after falling into a 21-point deficit early in the second half. West Orange finished an abysmal 16-percent from beyond the arc, which certainly didn’t help their cause having to attack the paint where the giants from Oak Ridge would be waiting. West Orange finishes their Cinderella-esque season with a record of 17-14, while Oak Ridge pushed their record to 29-4 and a date with Wellington on Saturday Night for a championship.
Wellington 75, Miramar 60
In the final game of the day, it was the Wolverines mauling the Patriots for a chance to pickup their second state title since 2015. The Wolverines, making their third trip since 2015, lost to Kissimmee Osceola in last year’s Class 9A title game by just two points. It took just three Wellington players to outscore the entire Miramar side with Bryan Williams adding 25, Linton Brown with 20, and Jon Philistin chipping in with 16. While Wellington was busy shooting a very respectable 54-percent for the game from the field, Miramar, much like the other teams this week, went colder than a Polar Bear’s toenails in the first half to the tune of 37-percent compared to WHS’ 58-percent. Strangely enough, the game, even with those crazy numbers, was still within reach for the Patriots, down just seven at the half. That’s when the separation was created for the Wolverines as they were able to extend their lead to 14 heading into the final eight minutes of play. Miramar’s Damian Miller led the way for the Patriots in the losing effort with 16 points, while Immanuel Crump helped the cause with 11. The Patriots season now ends at 27-4, while Wellington’s undefeated season continues at 31-0.
Doug Pugh, BCP Contributor