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Girls basketball region finals preview

Bob Putnam

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Games start at 7.

Class 7A

Oak Ridge (15-8) at Plant (23-3)

The Panthers, ranked No. 1 in 7A and 14th overall in the state by MaxPreps, are trying for their second straight state semifinal appearance. They are certainly on track with their performance the past month. Plant has won six straight, all by 13 or more points. Kendal Cheesman, a Vanderbilt signee, has been dominant inside, averaging a team-high 17.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Teammate Nyla Jean, a Georgia State, has been just as efficient with her decision-making and quickness, averaging a team-best 3.5 steals and 3.0 assists per game. 

Class 6A

Winter Haven (17-1) at Armwood (10-4)

The Hawks are in the region final for the second time in the past three seasons. They are led by senior Tavi’yanna Habib, a McDonald’s All-American nominee who is averaging 20.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.3 steals per game. Armwood has played well down the stretch and gave Plant its toughest test (a 13-point loss) in the past month. This is going to be an even bigger challenge. The Blue Devils are ranked second in 6A, sixth overall in the state and eighth nationally by MaxPreps. 

Class 5A

Clearwater (23-4) at Naples Barron Collier (22-7)

Last season, the Tornadoes did not make the playoffs, which were based on a ranking system. That served as a powerful motivator for Cleearwater, which is one step from making the state semifinals for the first time since 2007. After starting 3-3, the Tornadoes have won 20 of their last 21 games. During its current 16-game win streak, Clearwater has been dominant, winning by double digits in all but one. The Tornadoes are balanced with a different playing leading in the team in just about every statsitistic. Beckham Hockley, a freshman, has a team-high 14.7 points per game while Liv Fuller, a sophomore, leads in rebounding with nine per game.   

Class 4A

Lakewood (20-4) at Lincoln Park Academy (18-1)

The Spartans, who are always a factor in the playoffs, are trying to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2018. This is perhaps the most competitive region final among the six area teams still in the playoffs. The two powerhouses are ranked among the top five in 4A and the top 35 overall in the state by MaxPreps. If the Spartans fall behind early, there will not be any panic. Lakewood overcame a 20-3 first quarter deficit to knock off Cocoa in the region semifinals.  

Class 3A

West Palm Beach Benjamin (10-6) at Brooks DeBartolo (16-5)

The Phoenix have already cleared one of their biggest obstacles by knocking off defending 3A state champion Carrollwood Day in the district final and the region semifinals. Now, Brooks DeBartolo is one step away from making its second state semifinal appearance. The Phoenix are led by a trio of seniors — Amarie Godwin, Brionna McClinton and Triniti Youngblood — all of whom were selected this week as McDonald’s All-American nominees. 

Class 2A

Naples First Baptist (9-9) at Hernando Christian (15-0)

This is the Lions’ third straight region final appearance. Hernando Christian will have to rely on the scoring of senior Esther Jackson, who is averaging 24.9 points per game, in order to reach the state semifinals for the first time. 

Boys Basketball

Sharp’s shooting leads to Bishop McLaughlin to 3A state final

Bob Putnam

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Bishop McLaughlin’s burgeoning athletic program has already done some impressive things this school year. In the fall, the volleyball team reached the state semifinals and the football program played for a state title as an independent. 

On Wednesday, it was the boys basketball that had the spotlight. 

The Hurricanes, who won just two games last season, made a memorable playoff debut by reaching the state semifinals for the first time. 

When it came to postseason experience, Bishop McLaughlin was at a serious disadvantage in its matchup with Jacksonville Andrew Jackson. 

The Tigers were in the semifinals for the third straight season and were motivated to get to the championship game after losing in the finals the past two seasons. They had 10 returning players accustomed to being on basketball’s biggest stage. 

Still, the Hurricanes had something better.

They had Emanuel Sharp.

Sharp, the Class 5A state player of the year when he was at Blake last season, was among several high-profile transfers who made Bishop McLaughlin’s turnaround possible. 

Sharp took those honors because of ability to pile on the points. 

And that is just what the junior guard in the semifinals, finishing with 39 points to lead the Hurricanes to a 79-71 victory. Bishop McLaughlin will play the Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian-Miami Country Day winner in Friday’s 3A title game

And that is just what the junior guard in the semifinals, finishing with 39 points to lead the Hurricanes to a 77-71 victory. Bishop McLaughlin will play the Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian-Miami Country Day winner in Friday’s 3A title game.

From the start, Sharp dominated. He threw down emphatic dunks. He stepped back and hit NBA-range 3-pointers. He knocked down free throws.

More importantly, he rarely missed, an impressive feat for someone making his state semifinal debut. 

The vastness of Lakeland’s RP Funding Center, site of the tournament, can create problems with depth perception on long-range shots. Typically, area teams that make it there schedule a practice at USF or Eckerd College to get used to playing in a bigger arena.

Trouble was, no team was able to practice elsewhere because of the pandemic. 

That did not faze Sharp. 

He missed just two shots in the first half, going 7-of-9 in field goals and hitting all 12 of his free throw attempts. His 28 points led all scorers and helped the Hurricanes go into the half with a 38-23 lead.

Sharp’s shooting touch cooled off. He made just one of his six field goal attempts in the second half. But his first half performance — and his ability to hit some clutch free throws (21-of-22 overall from the line) — was more than enough to lead the Hurricanes into the final. 

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Boys Basketball

Boys basketball: Class 3A state semifinal preview

Bob Putnam

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Boys basketball state semifinals

All games at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.  Admission is $10 in advance, $13 on the day of the event. Parking is $10.

Class 3A

Bishop McLaughlin (21-6) vs. Jacksonville Andrew Jackson (19-6), 2

How they got here: Bishop McLaughlin d. Calvary Christian 62-48, d. Carrollwood Day 84-66, d. Fort Myers Canterbury 47-42. Andrew Jackson d. Florida State University 82-65, d. Jacksonville Bishop Snyder 58-37, d. Winter Park Trinity Prep 69-47. 

Top players: Bishop McLaughlin: G Emanuel Sharp, Jr. (23.6 points, 4.2 assists, 1.8 steals per game); F/G Dillon Mitchell, Jr.(18.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 blocks per game); F/G Anthony Davis Jr., Jr. (12.1 points, 4.3 rebounds per game). Andrew Jackson: F/G Bryce Turner, Sr. (9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds per game); C Stephon Payne, Jr. (6.6 points, 6.0 rebounds per game); F Davin Daniels, Sr. (6.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists per game). 

Outlook: Bishop McLaughlin, which won two games last season, made its playoff debut last with its first state semifinal appearance. The Hurricanes did while playing all three regional games on the road. Emanuel Sharp, the Class 5A state player of the year at Blake last season, arrived this year and has been the go-to guy-averaging a team-high 23.6 points per game. Dillon Mitchell, a four-star recruit, came from Sickles and has been an inside force for Bishop McLaughlin. The advantage in experience goes to Andrew Jackson, which is making its third straight state semifinal appearance. The Tigers are motivated, especially after losing in the state title game the past two seasons. It is a veteran team with 10 returning players from last year’s squad. 

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General

Tuesday night rewind: Softball

Bob Putnam

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Scoreboard

Sickles 5, Mitchell 0

Boca Ciega 7, Northeast 5

Brooks DeBartolo 5, Hernando Christian 4

Berkeley Prep 16, Admiral Farragut 1

Land O’ Lakes 13, Tarpon Springs 1

Seminole 4, Countryside 0

Hernando 11, Springstead 1

Lakeside Christian 16, Keswick Christian 3

Sumner 15, Blake 0

Newsome 9, Lennard 1

Osceola 5, Clearwater 1

Calvary Christian 17, Clearwater Central Catholic 0

St. Petersburg Catholic 7, Cambridge Christian 2

Gaither 18, Armwood 0

River Ridge 16, Fivay 0

Robinson 11, Riverview 3

East Lake 7, St. Petersburg 1

Sickles 4, Mitchell 0

Weeki Wachee 15, Central 5

Plant 11, Wharton 10

Nature Coast 12, Crystal River 0

Sunlake 17, Gulf 0

Wiregrass Ranch 19, Tampa Bay Tech 2

Wesley Chapel 17, Bishop McLaughlin 0

Prime time performers

3B/P/SS DaNia Brooks, So., Sickles: Led the Gryphons on offense by going 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in a win over Mitchell. 

SS Brooke Blankenship, Sr., River Ridge: Went 3-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs in a win over Fivay. 

3B Julia Diecidue, Sr., Berkeley Prep: Went 2-for-3 with a grand slam homer in a win over Admiral Farragut. 

SS/3B Bri Duggins, Sr., Plant: Finished 4-for-4 in a win over Wharton. 

CF/INF/P Kendra Falby, Sr., Sunlake: Led the Seahawks by going 3-for-3 with two RBIs in a win over Gulf. 

P/OF Kaitlyn Felton, Sr., Newsome: Threw four scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out seven in a win over Lennard. 

P/3B Alexa Grande, Sr., St. Petersburg Catholic: Threw a complete game and recorded nine strikeouts in a win over Cambridge Christian. 

P/1B Mikayla Haschak, Sr., Sunlake: Struck out all six batters she faced in a win over Gulf. 

3B/1B Jordan Herring, Sr., Boca Ciega: Went 2-for-3 with three RBIs in a win over Northeast.

P/1B Robyn Herron, Jr., Sickles: Threw a one-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts in a win over Mitchell.  

SS/C Leah Jarnac, Sr., Calvary Christian: Went 2-for-4 with four RBIs in a win over 

C/OF/1B Abbee Klinefelter, So., Clearwater: Finished 2-for-2 in a loss to Osceola. 

C/3B Kadence Means, Jr., Wesley Chapel: Hit a grand slam in a win over Bishop McLaughlin. 

C/3B/SS Madison Moran, Sr., Weeki Wachee: Went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI in a win over Central. 

P/INF Mariah Rivera, Sr., Osceola: Hit her third homer of the season in a win over Clearwater. 

P/1B/OF Jordan Sheets, Jr., River Ridge: Threw a three-inning no-hitter and recorded four strikeouts in a win over Gulf. 

3B/OF/P Gracie Stanley, Sr., Land O’ Lakes: Went 2-for-4 at the plate and combined with Mia Fields and Aliana Mercado for a no-hitter on the mound in a win over Tarpon Springs. 

UTIL Hannah Taylor, So., Hernando: Went 2-for-3 with two RBIs in a win over Springstead. 

SS Tieley Vaughn, Sr., Wharton: Led the Wildcats by going 4-for-5 with a triple and an RBI in a loss to Plant. 

OF Samantha Walz, So., Newsome: Finished 5-for-5 with a triple and two RBIs in a win over Lennard. 

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