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.