VALRICO — Alonso parlayed its third winning season in school history with its first ever playoff berth by defeating Plant 57-52 in Wednesday’s Class 6A, District 7 semifinal at Bloomingdale.
The No. 2 Ravens will play top seed Wharton, which cruised to a 69-44 win over Newsome, in Friday’s district final.
“It means a lot,” said Alonso senior Malachi Christopher, who scored 13 including four free throws down the stretch. “I’ve put a lot of work into this thing since I was a freshman. I’ve dreamed of going to the state playoffs.”
Early on, it looked like Plant (14-13) was headed for the postseason. The Panthers built a 29-20 halftime lead on the strength of an 11-0 run and led 40-30 heading into the final quarter.
The Ravens (15-11) fought back, outscoring the Panthers 17-3 at one point. Greg Robinson, who scored a game-high 24, had two of his six 3-pointers in that stretch.
“We just stayed with it,” Alonso coach Todd Price said. “The kids didn’t want to see (the season) end.”
Andrew Sanders led Plant with 18 points and teammate Chip Stern added 10.
The nightcap was pretty one-sided with Wharton (21-4) taking a 41-19 halftime lead and winning decisively.
Wharton senior Sir Patrick Reynolds led all scorers with 24 and Jaken Grier chipped in with 15.
Newsome (8-13) got 13 from Carlos Miranda.
7A-9: Chiefs prevail, Patriots fall
TAMPA — Nothing went as expected Wednesday at Steinbrenner. Freedom, the No. 2 seed, lost 63-59 to Wiregrass Ranch, and top-seeded Chamberlain barely held off Steinbrenner 78-71. The Chiefs led by two in the third quarter then again in the fourth. The Bulls and Chiefs will play Friday for the 7A-9 title.
In the first game, Freedom looked as if it would cruise to an easy victory, leading 16-9. But Wiregrass Ranch stormed back in the second quarter thanks to a couple of 3-pointers from Chris Parra (13 points) and Larrentz Manora (11). Manora’s 3 capped a 15-5 run and the Patriots headed into the locker room at halftime down 28-25.
Freedom’s Stephen Odunna (12 points, seven rebounds) started the third quarter on a tear, grabbing offensive rebounds and tying the score at 31. However, Wiregrass senior Ricky Ramirez went toe-to-toe with Odunna’s effort, hustling after loose balls and playing gritty defense.
“I wanted to come in and give the team the energy they needed, focus on rebounding and get the job done,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez finished with 12 points and six rebounds. The Wiregrass fullcourt press started to pay off in the fourth quarter, ringing up steals and easy baskets. Freedom’s Antwan Bradley led all scorers with 27 and kept his team in the game during the fourth quarter. But eventually the 17 turnovers caught up with the Patriots. Wiregrass’ Rico Kerney made all his free throws down the stretch.Chamberlain came out big in the first quarter and led 37-19. Steinbrenner cut the lead to eight just before the half and then to two in the third quarter as John Marc Carrier got a steal and coast-to-coast layup to cap an 11-0 run. However, the Chiefs slammed the door in the fourth as senior Reggie Hart (33 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, three blocks) started to heat up.
“I was kind of scared at the end; they’re a good team and they kept coming back,” Hart said. “But once we got our heads back in the game, I feel like we stepped it up.”
Steinbrenner’s Keshawn Ingram hit two 3-pointers and was fouled on a third attempt, after which he converted all three free throws. He finished with 29 points.
7A-8: Brandon finds touch in second half
PLANT CITY — After a tight first half Wednesday in which Brandon struggled from the field, coach Jamie Turner had a simple message for his team.
“Their heads were down in the locker room because we didn’t make a lot of shots in the first half,” Turner said. “But I told them I see them every day in practice and I know what they can do.”
Brandon came out of the break on fire and cruised from there as the top-seeded Eagles defeated Tampa Bay Tech 68-51 in the 7A-8 district semifinals. East Bay beat Riverview 63-51 in the other semifinal, setting up Brandon and East Bay for the district title Friday.
“Tampa Bay Tech is a tough, physical team,” Turner said. “Even though we beat them twice (during the regular season), I knew this would be a tough game.”
And in the first half, it was — the teams were tied nine times and neither led by more than five. But Brandon was lights-out after the break and outscored TBT 26-8 in the quarter.
“We shot the lights out,” Turner said.
Avery Bolton hit three of his five 3s in the third and finished with a game-high 22 points. Brandon’s Kiefer Jefferson-Grimes and Roderick Davis dominated the interior, collecting 11 and nine rebounds, respectively.
“Those guys owned the glass,” Turner said. “We talked about making (TBT) shoot over us and they did that.”
East Bay built a 35-13 halftime lead and rolled from there. Jon Jean scored a game-high 18 for the Indians while teammate Anton Crutcher chipped in with 10. Gerald Emanuel finished with a team-high 13 for Riverview.
6A-11: Harris leads Sickles into title game
TAMPA — Sickles’ Dan Harris walked off the floor with a smile. More than anyone, he is looking forward to Friday night’s Class 6A, District 11 championship against Armwood.
Harris, who sustained a dislocated knee in last year’s district semifinals, scored 14 to lead No. 3 seed Sickles (23-4) to a 49-42 victory over Strawberry Crest (18-8) Wednesday night. Marcus Hill scored 30 points as top-seeded Armwood (18-8) rolled to a 71-41 win against King (7-14).
“I got hurt last year against King and didn’t play in the (district) championship,” Harris said. “This is a good feeling to go back and be able to go for a state title.”
Harris scored his final six points on free throws in the last 74 seconds as Sickles put Strawberry Crest away at the charity stripe. After Matt Chacko’s trey gave the Chargers a 34-33 lead with less than four minutes remaining, the Gryphons scored 16 of the game’s final 24 points, 12 on free throws. Ray Santiago added 10 points for Sickles, and Devin Diggs led Strawberry Crest with 18.
“It was a grind-out game,” Harris said. “This was about heart and pride. In the county, we’re known for playing defense.”
Sickles held Strawberry Crest to 30.4 percent shooting from the field.
Defense also sparked Armwood. While Hill scored 14 of the Hawks’ 17 points and 17 in the first half, the Hawks led only 32-26 as King’s Rashard Green (10 points) hit consecutive baskets midway through the second quarter. But the Lions missed their next 14 shots — the final eight to start the second half — and Armwood built a 46-28 lead before Michael Shoemaker broke the King drought with a layup.
King never got closer than 16 after that.
“Our defense turned it on when we had to,” Armwood coach Jeff Pafunda said. “We went in at halftime and said the way we’re going to turn this game around is to play tough defense and make sure (King) didn’t get a run.”
King shot only 29 percent. Armwood got 16 points from Javone King and 15 from Vontrey Hill (15).
5A-11: Lennard relies on defense
TAMPA — Lennard will meet Jesuit in the Class 5A, District 11 final Friday after coupling a solid defensive performance with clutch shooting against Robinson in a 55-53 victory.
The No. 2-seeded Longhorns fell behind early, but kept themselves in the game by forcing the Knights into 25 turnovers. The defensive effort was led by center Cedric Blatch who finished with six steals, three blocked shots and 11 rebounds to go with four points.
“Early on we just needed to wake up and realize the situation was that there is no tomorrow,” Lennard coach Danny Gaddis said. “Our senior captain Cedric Blatch stepped up and again had a game that the numbers won’t do justice. His presence was crucial in forcing them to make mistakes and slowing them down on the break.”
Gary Hector led Lennard in scoring with 23 and was helped out offensively by point guard Caelen Watts, who finished with 16 points, three assists and three steals.
Gaddis says his team is looking forward to its district final opponent in Jesuit despite losing to the Tigers twice this season.
Jesuit rolled over host Middleton 58-12, not allowing it to score its first basket until late in the second quarter, at which point the score was 35-2. The ease of the victory allowed Jesuit coach Neal Goldman to rest his starters for much of the game.
“We know we have a tough opponent on Friday, but I think the important thing is that we played good defense and passed the ball well tonight,” Goldman said. “It was nice to make sure our starters got a rest and we’ll be fresh for Friday.”
Correspondents Andy Warrener, Brandon Wright, Don Jensen and David Rice contributed to this report.