District basketball: Plant City ends playoff drought
DOVER — As the clock reached its final ticks and victory became certain, Plant City coach Billy Teeden skipped from his bench, grinning from ear to ear, as he high-fived each of his players.
This moment had been out of reach for the Raiders for nearly a decade. Now, it was time to celebrate the finality of a frustrating drought and utter one word that had long eluded them:
Despite a slow start and having to fend off a ferocious comeback attempt in Wednesday's Class 8A, District 9 semifinal against Bloomingdale, the Raiders survived for a 61-55 triumph to clinch postseason berth for the first time since 2008.
They will face Tampa Bay Tech in Friday's final at Strawberry Crest. The top-seeded Titans were tested by East Bay in the nightcap before pulling away late for their 21st straight victory, 69-56.
"We knew they were going to do something different, because the last two games, we had beat them" Teeden said. "They mixed in some zone and our kids, we talked about it, but they weren't really ready for it."
Out of the gate, the Bulls jumped on the Raiders with three 3-pointers and held a 15-12 advantage after one quarter.
But once Plant City (18-8) figured things out, it fought right back. Forcing a barrage of turnovers, it allowed Bloomingdale just one basket — a 3-pointer by Drew Bethoney — in the second, while outscoring the Bulls by 10 to take the lead for good.
"I just told them that we were getting good looks, we're getting good shots," Teeden said. "We had to play better defensively. We didn't play very well in the first quarter."
They almost got stunned in the final minutes.
Down by as much as 14 in the fourth, Bloomingdale suddenly found its mojo from beyond the arc. The Bulls (14-12) rattled off a streak of five consecutive 3s — four by Bethoney — and cut the deficit to five with 24.5 seconds left.
But forced to foul, the rally simply came far too late as the Raiders hit six straight free throws down the stretch to seal it.
Justyn King led Plant City with 18 points. Bethoney finished with a game-high 28, including nine 3-pointers.
TBT (21-0) went back and forth with East Bay well into the second half before finally managing to break away.
Tied 34-34 with less than 3 minutes to play in the third, Michael Penix Jr. and Tyrese Williams gave the Titans the spark they badly needed with a trio of crowd-pleasing dunks to open an 11-2 run as the Indians (15-12) ran out of gas.
"We played them at their place and we were up six with two minutes to go and we didn't finish the game," Teeden said of TBT, which defeated Plant City twice during the regular season and was a perfect 12-0 in district play.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play in the district finals and advance to the playoffs."