LAKELAND – The 2018 FHSAA Boys Basketball Finals are well underway and while it was the small classes time-to-shine the past two days, Wednesday was time for the middle classes (4A-6A) to start their two-day “mini” process to a champion. It was a mixed bag of good and bad for the 12 teams in action at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, and there are six teams left vying for a ring and a shot at making history for their schools’ on Thursday.
What to watch for on Thursday:
4A – Match-up between defending champs from Fort Lauderdale and locals from up the road in Oviedo. Westminster brings heralded guard and FGCU commit Zach Scott plus sharpshooting Chase Johnston to the mix.
5A – It’s all about University School and their nationally-ranked prospects Scottie Barnes and Vernon Carey Jr, while Trinity Catholic will try to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more from the perimeter.
6A – Leesburg tries to go back-to-back in Class 6A, while Rickards tries to bring home a title to Tallahassee.
4A STATE SEMIFINALS
Master’s Academy 52, P.K. Yonge 48
The Eagles from Oviedo jumped out to a 13-4 lead after one period and led 24-16 at the half, but it was P.K. Yonge from Gainesville that was able to ride their Blue Wave to battle back and tie the score going into the final quarter of the game. In the end, it was Master’s Academy (23-7) squeaking out a four point victory to send themselves into the title game tomorrow at 2:00pm against the defending champions Westminster from Fort Lauderdale. Two players from P.K. Yonge (18-12) totaled 38 of their 48 points with Jalen Speer and William Banks IV pouring in 22 and 16 respectively. Banks is just one of two seniors on the entire roster, so it’s quite possible we could see a return trip from this squad in the future. In the end, it was the perimeter shooting that did the Blue Wave in, as they finished just 31% overall and 29% from beyond the arc, while TMA finished 55% from the field. A pair of seniors lead the way for the the Master’s Academy as Jose Placer and Emanuel Hernandez put up 16 and 14 respectively to send their team to the finals tomorrow afternoon.
Westminster Academy 76, SLAM (Miami) 64
It didn’t finish the way Head Coach Ehren Walhoff and his squad wanted it to, but the defending Class 4A Champions from Fort Lauderdale were able to set such a comfortable lead, that the furious charge at the end from the Sirens of the Sports Leadership and Management Academy proved to be futile. Westminster jumped out to an 18-4 lead after the first period and never looked back, with the exception being the 4th Quarter where they were outscored by SLAM, 29-19. The Lions led at the break comfortably by 14, holding a decisive advantage in terms of shooting accuracy, but more importantly, they were steadied by their core nucleus of players—most notably senior guard and FGCU Commit Zach Scott, who tied a game-high 28 points along with junior guard Sam Griffin’s 23 points and sophomore guard Dudley Blackwell’s 12 points. SLAM was led by Isaac Solano’s 28 points, but finish the season at 29-3. Westminster will look to repeat as 4A Champions tomorrow at 2:00 at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
5A STATE SEMIFINALS
Trinity Catholic 55, Pensacola Catholic 54
It was a tale of two halves in this battle of Parochial’s with Trinity winning the first one, 31-18, while Pensacola won the second 36-24. Do the quick math on that, and you get a mere one-point difference between these two teams as the visitors from up I-75 in Ocala held on for dear life to advance to tomorrow’s 5A Championship game. In the end, it was Trinity’s 23-6 second quarter in which Pensacola Catholic went Antarctic-cold from the field that led to their survival and advancement. One specific area that Trinity Catholic was superior as points off turnovers in the first half, which helped them build a lead they would need very bit of in the end. Pensacola Catholic’s Dexter McKenzie led all scorers with 28 points, while Trinity Catholic had three players in double-figures with junior Dominic Pugh leading the Celtics with 14 points. The Crusaders of Pensacola Catholic finish the season at 28-2, while Trinity Catholic improved to 22-8. The Celtics will face University School of Davie at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon.
University School 83, Tampa Catholic 48
It was never going to be easy for the Crusaders of Tampa Catholic given the fact they were playing a Top-10 nationally-ranked team such as University School. Perfection was going to be needed for TC, and perfection was far-from what they provided. The Sharks doubled-up TC in the first quarter 26-13, then jumped even farther out to a 30-point lead at the halftime break. The situation went from bad-to-worse for Tampa Catholic with U-School putting a running clock on the Crusaders shortly after the intermission. The Sharks were on cruise control at that point while having the luxury of not needing much from megastars Vernon Carey Jr. and Scottie Barnes—although they put up 21 and 12 respectively–and Carey Jr. spent the entire game putting up highlight reel dunks. The Sharks outscored Tampa Catholic 62-22 in the paint and the game took less than an hour to play. Tampa Catholic finishes the season at 26-6, while University School continues with a 32-1 record and will play Trinity Catholic in the defense of their 5A State Championship tomorrow afternoon.
6A STATE SEMIFINALS
Rickards 55, Palatka 51
In a game that was in the balance the entire time, it was the Rickards Raiders from Tallahassee surviving a pesky Palatka squad for the right to play in the 6A Championship game Thursday night. Both teams were even after one, but it was Palatka that was able to jump to the six point lead at the half-time break. Although the game might have been close, it was a lesson in futility from the field for both squads as Palatka finished with 32% shooting, while Rickards was only slightly better at 34-percent. Beyond the arc was unkind for the Panthers in their bid to advance shooting just 5-of-19 from three-point range while Rickards was an extremely efficient 3-of-6. Rickards senior point guard Vincent McCray led all scorers with 25 points on the evening, while Malik Beauford led three players in double-figures with 13 points. Palatka finishes the season at 28-3, while Rickards moves on with a 23-7 record on the season.
Leesburg 62, Booker 61
The old cliche “it’s a shame someone had to lose” never felt more appropriate between the Yellow Jackets of Leesburg and the Tornadoes of Sarasota Booker in the final contest of the night. It had been a combined 144 days since either one of these elite squads have lost with Leesburg’s last loss on December 2nd, while Booker hadn’t tasted defeat since January 10th. In the end, it was Leesburg who didn’t want to have that streak come to an end as the Yellow Jackets, and defending 6A Champions, slid by the Tornadoes 62-61. There were a total of seven players between the two squads in double figures on the night with Leesburg’s Lance Erving leading the way for all scorers with 28. The Jackets also got 13 and 10 from Keon Ellis and Decorian Patterson. Meanwhile, Palatka, who made it to this point last season before bowing out to Mariner, showed a much better fight this time around with four players in double-figures led by Johnnie Williams IV’s 18 points. Booker finishes their season at 29-3, while Leesburg advances to tomorrow’s championship game with a record of 29-1.
Doug Pugh, BCP Contributor