Lakeland’s Final 4 – Local Teams On Deck

Who: Seffner Christian Academy Crusaders (24-6) vs. Westminster Academy Lions (27- 4)
What: Boys Basketball Class 4A State Semifinal Where: The Lakeland Center
When: Wednesday 3/1 – 12:00pm

It is the Crusaders trying to slay the Lions in our first matchup of the semifinals featuring a local squad at high noon on Wednesday to get the party started in Lakeland. Both squads come into this one with scorching-hot consistency coming down the stretch of their respective seasons. Seffner Christian has won 15 of their last 16 contests–their lone defeat on the 4th of February to 4A Semifinalists Providence. Meanwhile their opponents from Fort Lauderdale have won 14 of their last 15 games. Both of Seffner Christian’s postseason games have been won by an average of 30 points. The Crusaders throttled Orangewood Christian out of Maitland 74-32, then followed that win with an impressive thumping of The First Academy, 67-49. Westminster Academy blew away Miami Country Day by 42 points in their playoff opener, then won an instant classic by two points last Friday against powerhouse Sagemont Academy. Seffner Christian has averaged a 66-50 final margin in their games this season while Westminster has dispatched their opponents by an average score of 71-50.

The Lions feature an impressive starting five that are all ranked in their respective classes per multiple databases. Their starting lineup averages 6-feet, 5-inches in height, but it’s their frontcourt featuring seniors Paul Atkinson (6-8 PF) and Jason Strong (6-7 PF) plus the combo guard play of junior Zach Scott (6-3) that makes them tick. The three average 20, 15, and 18 points per game respectively and Atkinson and Strong are signed to play at Yale and Northeastern respectively. Scott is being heavily recruited by FSU, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and DePaul among many others. They’ll look to young guns Chase Johnston, a 6-2 sophomore shooting guard that is averaging 15 points per game, as well as freshman small forward Dudley Blackwell (6-5), who is already being looked at Florida Gulf Coast, Miami and Rhode Island among others. Seffner Christian’s starting five features guys all over 6-feet as well, led by 6-4 senior guard Reid Walker and 6-5 senior forward Derek Webster, who has signed to play ball at The Citadel next season. The all-senior lineup fills out with 6-1 guard Darius Lue, 6-6 forward Christian Noskey, a Benedictine College signee, along with 6-6 forward Donald Jordan.

The Crusaders head coach is Sam Moorer, an SCA graduate of 2007 and 2012 graduate of Florida College, who is in his fifth season at his alma mater, has compiled a 91-50 record and has guided the Crusaders to four postseason births in those five years and are making their third consecutive appearance in the postseason. Westminster’s Ehren Wallhoff is also leading his alma mater (1991 graduate) and is a graduate of Stetson University from the Class of 1996. Wallhoff is in his 14th season at the school and has compiled a 271-113 record in spite of the Lions reaching just their fourth postseason– second consecutive–following a decade long drought in his tenure. The Lions have defeated 2A semifinalists Florida Prep (66-61), 4A semifinalists Providence (62-60) as well as played 7A semifinalists Dillard to 63-58 game in a close defeat. They also have impressive wins over 8A powerhouses Blanche Ely and Boyd Anderson this season, as well as a win over 4-time state champion Norland.

Seffner Christian’s season includes a 2-0 record against local powerhouses Tampa Prep, a 4-1 record against elite competition over the holidays from Georgia and North Carolina, as well as impressive wins over Windermere Prep and Kathleen towards the end of their regular season. The Crusaders will be the away team while Westminster will be the home team. Winner will play either he Region 1 Champions Providence from Jacksonville or Region 4 champs Archbishop Carroll from Miami at 8:00pm on Friday evening. Seffner Christian are the Region 2 Champions while Westminster Academy are Region 3 Champs.

Who: The Villages Buffalo (28-2) vs. Tampa Catholic Crusaders (24-5) What: Boys Basketball Class 5A State Semifinal
Where: The Lakeland Center
When: Wednesday 3/1 – 4:00pm

The Crusaders and their all-world forward Kevin Knox are in the semis for the second consecutive season. Knox and his teammates are hoping that this season doesn’t end like it did in 2016 when TC was defeated by Jacksonville Bolles in the semifinals. TC absolutely demolished Bishop Verot in the first round of the playoffs by 52 points, then followed that up with two hard fought wins–one in the road, and one at home. The road win came at Community School of Naples by a 64-60 final score, then the Crusaders scrapped and clawed their way back at home to defeat West Palm Beach’s Oxbridge Academy, 78-70. Tampa Catholic are District 9-5A Champions and Region 3 Champions while their opponents from up I-75 from The Villages are District 5-5A Champions and Region 2 Champions. The Crusaders are winning their games by an average margin of fifteen points, or a 77-62 score. Meanwhile the Buffalo have won their games by an average margin of victory of eighteen points, or a 68-50 final score. The Villages only losses have come to Sickles and Central Florida Christian Academy, and they have won 16 of their last 17 games heading into this contest. Tampa Catholic has won 11 of their last 13 games.

The potential starters for Tampa Catholic are 5-11 junior guard Tai Strickland, who is averaging 13 points per game, as well as 6-1 junior guard Tim Carter, 6-1 junior guard Messiah Turner, the aforementioned Kevin Know, who checks-in at 6-9 from the forward position, and 6-4 freshman forward Alijah Harrison. Knox leads his team in scoring with nearly 29 points per game, while Strickland averages 13.5 points per game. Although Carter is averaging 8.5 points per games, we saw him put up 25 versus one of Georgia’s best teams from Macon in the Wally Keller Classic. Nick Giorgi and Bentlee Sanders– both seniors–have played key roles for TC this season and could play key roles again if the top two scorers face adversity. The Villages are led by one of the state’s best sophomores, 6-0 point guard Tre Mann, who, is being heavily recruited by Florida and Memphis already and is averaging 20 points per game for the Buffalo. Other potential starters to face TC are 5-9 sophomore guard Terry Ivery, 6-5 junior Dalton Berry at the center position, 6-1 sophomore forward Montez Leath, and 6-0 junior guard Jacob Truax. Leath’s brother Rayjahn (6-1 guard) is the team’s sixth-man averaging 10 points per game. Mann and the Leath Brothers are cousins.

The Crusaders are coached by Don Dziagwa, who is in his 26th season at Tampa Catholic. It is TC’s 20th postseason appearance under Dziagwa and their fifth consecutive postseason appearance. As mentioned earlier, TC were in the Final Four last season in Class 4A. The Villages head coach is Colt McDowell, who grew up 30 minutes down the road from his current school and is a 1998 Graduate of Leesburg. This is only his second season at The Villages, but he has compiled a 44-15 record in those two years and has led the Buffalo to the postseason in both his years at the helm.

Tampa Catholic’s impressive season includes quality wins over East St. Louis, Cary High School from North Carolina, as well as a victory over Jay Robinson High School from Concord, North Carolina–who are current Class 3A semifinalists in their respective state at the moment. The Villages defeated Master’s Academy, Windermere Prep, and Melbourne Central Catholic in the postseason to get to Lakeland. Other impressive wins come over Leesburg and Wildwood–7A and 1A semifinalists in their own right–plus a win over Oviedo, who were Class 9A regional finalists. Tampa Catholic is the home team, while The Villages will be the away team. The winner of this contest will play either Marianna (Region 1) or Calvary Christian (Fort Lauderdale)–Region 4 champs–at 10:00am on Saturday.

Who: Sickles Gryphons (27-4) vs. Lakewood Ranch Mustangs (27-2) What: Boys Basketball Class 8A State Semifinal
Where: The Lakeland Center
When: Friday 3/3 – 2:00pm

Falling in-line with the other two match-ups featuring local teams, two of the hottest teams in the state–let alone their classifications–are going at it for the right to play for a title on Saturday. The Gryphons have won 17 of their last 18, while the Mustangs have won sixteen straight since losing their only two games of the season on consecutive days all the way back in December to out of state competition Peachtree Ridge (GA) and Georgetown Prep from Washington D.C. Meanwhile Sickles defeated Kathleen 54-36, Bartow 41-39, and Melbourne 55-49 to make it to Lakeland, while Lakewood Ranch defeated Naples-Gulf Coast, Palmetto and St. Petersburg. The Gryphons have won their games by an average margin of 19 points, giving up just 42 points per game, while averaging 61 per contest. Lakewood Ranch is winning games by a nineteen point margin as well, with an average score of 73-54.

Sickles is led by a trio of studs. Seniors Marcus Cohen (6-3 PG) and Bryce Beamer (6-3 SF) and junior Bryce Workman (6-7 PF) all average double figures for the Gryphons. All three obviously project to start this Friday, along with 5-11 shooting guard Taj Lalanne and 6-5 junior forward Denari Garrett. For the Mustangs, it’s the trio of 6-2 senior guard Sam Hester, 5-11 senior guard Devin Twenty, and 6-1 junior guard Damien Gordon that carry the load. Just like Sickles’ trio, those three players all average double figures. Rounding out the expected starting five are 6-6 senior forward Justin Muscara and 6-3 junior guard, Evan Spiller. Twenty finished as the District 11-8A player of the year.

The Mustangs are coached by Jeremy Schiller, a 1999 Graduate of Brandon and a 2003 graduate of Florida Southern. He is in his sixth season at Lakewood Ranch, making it to the postseason four times and has compelled a record of 93-69, including a 66-15 record the last three years. Sickles’ Renaldo Garcia is in his 15th season over in Citrus Park and has tallied a 327-104 record including a 51-8 record the last two seasons. Garcia is a 1987 graduate of Tampa Catholic and 1992 University of Florida graduate. This is the Gryphons sixth trip to Lakeland under Garcia, their first since the 2012-13 season. This is Lakewood Ranch’s first ever appearance in Lakeland.

Impressive wins for Lakewood Ranch include wins over three teams making an appearance in their respective classifications. Wins over Cape Coral Mariner, Lehigh, and Seffner Christian stand out for the Mustangs along with wins over New Jersey’s Ranney High School and 5A semifinalists The Villages on Sickles’ list of quality wins. The winner of this contest gets the winner of the Lincoln-Palm Beach Lakes game at Noon on Saturday.