District boys basketball: Berkeley Prep knocks out Clearwater Central Catholic
CLEARWATER – Revenge was not only sweet for Berkeley Prep, it extended its season.
After dropping a pair of regular-season battles with Clearwater Central Catholic, the Buccaneers rode a patient and productive second half against the host Marauders to a 62-54 victory Wednesday night in the Class 5A, District 9 semifinals.
Now with a 18-9 record, third-seeded Berkeley Prep will take on top-seeded Tampa Catholic (22-5) on Friday at CCC for the district title. The Crusaders pulled away from a pesky Brooks DeBartolo squad for an 84-69 victory in the opener.
After a pair of lead changes and four ties in the opening six minutes, the Marauders (21-5) rode a 15-5 run triggered by Brandon Giebel (with seven of his team-high 14 points) to what would be their largest lead of the night, 26-16 with 5:09 left in the first half.
But from there, Berkeley improved its rebounding and spread out its offense to force CCC to defend more space. Behind the athleticism of junior Zach Mathis (game-high 18 points, six rebounds , four assists), the Bucs took control.
"The game was really intense and we came out with a lot of energy," said Mathis. "We didn't get the start we wanted but we finished well."
Mathis' eye-popping behind-the-head pass set up Kaleeyl Findlay (13 points, six rebounds, five assists while bouncing back from a broken tibia) for a layup and a lead the Bucs wouldn't lose. Paint presence Mayan Ahanotu (13 points, eight rebounds) scored eight of Berkeley's first 10 fourth-quarter points for valuable separation.
"The problem we've had this season is that with so many post injuries, we've had to play four guards and a post," Berkeley head coach Bobby Reinhart said. "With Kaleeyl back, we were able to do the stuff we like to do – high/low, short corners, high post. It was a good performance."
Brooks DeBartolo's aggressiveness combined with a slow Tampa Catholic start gave the Phoenix (10-14) a lead into the early stages of the second quarter, led by Liron Thomas (11 points) and Craig Hall (18 points).
The Crusader offense thawed out in a big way behind five-star senior Kevin Knox, who made the game look easy as he glided to a 40-point, 19-rebound, four-assist and three-block stat line.
Nick Giorgi helped turn the tide with a trio of third-quarter 3-pointers, while Knox's traditional three-point play and a 3 from Bentlee Sanders gave TC its biggest lead, 84-60, with two minutes left.
"We knew Brooks would be aggressive, and when the game got fast, I looked to get to the free-throw line to help our offense get more patient," said Knox, who went 8-of-10 from the stripe. "That helped get us rolling."