So close, yet so far. Lakeland’s just 30 miles to the east along I-4, yet that distance might-as-well-be in the middle of Siberia if the teams from our area can’t get the job done this weekend. For those squads that do handle their business, the trip won’t be over and there will be unfinished business, but it certainly beats not having a season at all left to finish said business, right? There are eight chances for teams left from the BCP area. From Pasco County, it’s Academy at the Lakes’ turn to carry the flag. Three teams from Pinellas County (Gibbs, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs) and four teams from Hillsborough (Berkeley Prep, East Bay, Jefferson,and Tampa Prep) will be in action this Friday and Saturday night. Here’s the breakdown as we see it for small classes.
FRIDAY, 2/20 – 7:00pm
CLASS 2A REGION-II FINALS
#6-Orlando Christian Prep (18-11) at Academy at the Lakes (19-9) – Ordinarily, Ethan Haslem hitting his 20 points-per-game average on Friday night would give Academy at the Lakes fans’ reason to feel pretty confident except that no one else on the team is even close to him in that department. If they want to beat a team like OCP with two guys that can go for 20-plus points any given night in 6′-6″ Junior guard Josh Raoul and Mike Tolbert AND deal with a front-court that averages 6’6.5″ then the Wildcats will have to see some of their other starters get them to the Class 2A Final Four in Lakeland. OCP is playing their best ball of the season at the right time and finally adjusted after losing their all-world freshman PG Damon Harge midway through the season. Winner of this game plays the winner of North Florida Educational (Jacksonville) vs. Agape Christian (Orlando) in the semifinals.
CLASS 3A REGION-II FINALS
#3-The First Academy (25-4) at #4-Tampa Prep (23-6) – On the short list for best-small-school regional final game in the entire state in Class 3A even with a banged-up Juwan Durham for the Terrapins that could make some folks a little uneasy to say the least. Durham’s 35 points against Oak Ridge (as witnessed at the Wally Keller Classic) is exactly the kind of performance they are going to need. The bigger question isn’t whether Durham will play, it’s how does Tampa Prep account for TFA’s Fletcher Magee on the perimeter and Gerrell Dickson in the post? Those two aren’t the only ones for the Royals, but Tampa Prep isn’t without its own prowess and need to see guys like Michael Fridella and Joseph Barker step-up to neutralize Magee and PG Austin Graham–(another vital component on offense for TFA and critical piece on defense to stop from dribble-penetration if you’re the Terrapins). Dickson is lethal when in transition as the trailer so Durham’s most-crucial responsibility may end-up coming on the defensive side of the ball. The winner of this game gets the victor between Providence and Tallahassee-Maclay.
CLASS 4A REGION-III FINALS
#7-Berkeley Prep (22-6) at Fort Myers-Dunbar (19-8) – Berkeley Prep did something that is rather hard for any team to do and that’s beat a quality opponent 3-times in one season versus Tampa Catholic. The Bucs are also a squad that’s playing well-balanced and well-disciplined basketball at the right time to match their consistency when it comes to scoring. Sure, Jacob Mathis is the main concern for most opposing coaches, but Berkeley Prep gets balanced production from all of their other starters as well. Dunbar managed to score only 30 points versus Bishop Verot in a fairly-large in the regional semis, but only surrendered 21 points. Regardless of whether Verot wasn’t able to hit water if they fell out of a boat from the field, that kind of defensive effort and plan to play keep-away from Dunbar awaits and stands to be an obstacle for Berkeley Prep as they have their eyes set on getting to Lakeland for the Class 4A finals. If the Bucs can lockup Dunbar’s Chris Sutherland, then you can expect them to be right where they want come next week. Winner gets the chance to play either Cardinal Newman or Monsignor Pace in the state semifinals.
– Doug Pugh