LAKELAND – The Oak Ridge Pioneers are state champions for the first time in school history; a school history that’s spanned 58 years. While Wellington absorbed every major punch that Oak Ridge threw, the Wolverines were simply unable to match the efficiency with which the Pioneers were able to execute their game plan. The subtle irony, was that the Pioneers were able to do it without All-American Emmitt Williams for over 1.5 quarters of play due to foul trouble.

It was going to be an uphill battle for Wellington, even as an undefeated team at 31-0 and having players still on their roster from the 2015 state Championship squad. The action got underway with a frenetic pace–for the first four minutes anyways–before Oak Ridge took the air out of the ball and held it at half-court for the final shot. The Pioneers took a 17-10 lead in to the second quarter at that point.

The second quarter was much of the same in terms of pace and tenacity with both teams picking up technical fouls in addition to needing to be separated on occasion. The Pioneers took an 11-point lead into the locker rooms, up 39-28 following a buzzer-beater three-pointer from Wellington. Both teams were on fire in the first half from the field as well with Wellington executing at a 57-percent clip from the field, while Oak Ridge ended the first half 62-percent from the field with 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc led by senior guard, Robin Perry, who finished the game with 32 points leading all scorers.

Things tightened up considerably as Wellington got within a two possession game as we went to the final quarter of the game, and the margin stayed six points for the first four minutes of the quarter. The Wolverines, who looked like they received a shot-in-the-arm when Williams fouled out, just couldn’t get past the six point margin however as Oak Ridge’s half-court offense and ability to drive to the bucket to create chances at there foul line. That’s when Oak Ridge was able to close out the game in championship fashion.

The Pioneers were led in scoring by Perry’s 32, while nobody else ventured into double-figures on the evening. Wellington was led by Nico Toledo’s 19 points and Linton Brown’s 17 points. They closeout the season at 31-1. Meanwhile, Oak Ridge was able to advance through the playoffs with wins over Sarasota Riverview by 35, Dr. Phillips by 33, last year’s champions Kissimmee Osceola by three, West Orange by 22, and tonight’s victory over Wellington by 11 for an average margin of victory in the state tournament of 23 points.

(Pompano Beach) BLANCHE ELY 77, (Jacksonville) CREEKSIDE 54


LAKELAND – A new Dean of High School Basketball is now among us. Following the final buzzer at the RP Funding Center on Saturday evening, Head Coach Melvin Randall coached his way to his 8th state championship and sixth at Ely since 2007, tying him with Norland’s Lawton Williams and putting him one behind Dillard’s Darryl Burrows for most titles at one school. Randall’s eight titles are the most of any current or retired coach in the state.

The more things changed, the more they stayed the same for Ely on Saturday much like their game against St. Petersburg in the semifinals. Creekside came out swinging for the fences, just like the Green Devils did on Friday, but it was the senior leadership of PG Michael Forrest combined with the junior shooting guard Joshua Scott’s scorching-hot shooting.

While Scott was busy putting up a game-high 26 points, Forrest was busy going 4-of-6 from three-point range and effectively put this game to bed before the halftime buzzer sounded. The Tigers were able to parlay their accuracy into a 42-29 score at the break, and never looked back. Forrest finished the game with 21 points, while a third member of the Tigers, Anthony Byrd, hit double-figures with 14 points.

Blanche Ely advanced to their championship by defeating Forest Hill in round one, then defeating Dwyer, McArthur, St. Petersburg, and Creekside by an average margin of victory of eighteen points. Their closest game throughout the playoff was their round one game, a nine point victory. The Tigers finish the season with a record of 24-8. Creekside finishes their season with a record of 27-5. Noah Lippy led the Knights with 14, while J’michael Plummer and DJ Dumas finished with 13 and 10 respectively.

(Miami) DORAL ACADEMY 43, (Fort Walton Beach) CHOCTAWHATCHEE 38


LAKELAND – It was a matchup between two teams looking to bring home a state championship for the first time in their respective histories. It was a matchup that came down to the wire like a state championship should. And in the end, it was the squad from Dade County playing just their 8th postseason game in their 18th season as a program brining home the hardware in Class 7A.

It wasn’t going to be easy for Doral given they play with a core of just seven guys in the rotation. It got even more difficult when two of their starters both picked up their third fouls with more than two minutes left in the second quarter. Just in case the degree of difficulty wasn’t enough for Doral, one of those starters was their leading scorer in the semifinals on Friday.

The two teams were as evenly-matched throughout the first half of the game with the score tied at 8 after one, then Doral taking a slim 19-16 lead into the locker rooms courtesy of stifling defense on their behalf and ice cold 28-percent shooting from Choctaw. Following the break, Doral was able to find some holes in Choctaw’s man-to-man and went on a 13-1 run to end the third quarter to take a 12 point lead into the final frame.

Choctaw wasn’t done, however. The Indians went on a 10-1 run themselves to get within three points with just over two minutes to play in the game. That’s when senior guard Michael Ayesa hit a three in the corner with 1:21 to put the lead at 5 for the Firebirds. Following a frantic effort from Choctaw to get to the rim, Diante Smith’s shot rimmed-out and was rebounded by Doral. Kobbie Perez then stepped up to the line and nailed both shots to seal the game.

Needless to say, battle-tested was the operative description of this team. In the opening round they defeated Carol City, then Norland in the second round, then Oakland Park Northeast in the region finals, then a very good Cape Coral squad in their largest margin of victory in the postseason. On the flip side, Choctaw, except for the two-point controversial when over Gainesville in the regional finals, no opponent of the Indians got within 15 points of them including to 30+ point victories en route.

That point was brought to Head Coach Jorge Fernandez’ attention in the postgame press conference. “These guys didn’t flinch. When you beat Carol City, you beat Norland, then you beat Northeast, you’re ready. That team (Choctaw) was really good, but it wasn’t anything our kids weren’t for and that’s because of the level of competition we had to face literally on a night-to-night basis.”

The state championship is Doral’s first title in any sport since the school opened in 1999. The process of getting to this point wasn’t lost upon instant reflection from Fernandez.

“I’m old school, and quite honestly I don’t like a lot of the things I see in today’s game,” said Fernandez, “but I still believe that fundamentals win ball games. You know, for us to win, this team had to get better throughout the season, and that’s what they did, they got better. I coach these guys harder than anybody else and tell them it’s nothing personal and they don’t take it personal. That’s a major tribute to them as competitors and as people. They hold themselves accountable as much as we hold them accountable. This is the result when you do things right and find a way. Our practices are intense.”

The Firebirds capped an unbelievable season with a record of 32-2, their only two loses coming to the 2A State Champions Miami Christian in OT, and 4A Semifinalists, SLAM (Sports Leadership and Management) from Miami. They had not suffered defeat since before Christmas on the 20th of December.

Doug Pugh, BCP Contributor