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TAMPA — Academy at the Lakes has thrived on emotion all season.
And because of a burst of intensity and hot shooting in Tuesday night’s Class 2A, District 8 semifinal, the Wildcats will keep chasing their passion into the postseason.
AATL’s emotion fueled a pivotal 9-2 third-quarter run that helped edge rival Cambridge Christian 73-68 at Citrus Park Christian.
“That’s kinda what we live and die by,” coach Tom Haslam said.
The Wildcats (14-11) lived by it Tuesday to advance to play top seed Tampa Bay Christian, which staved off a pesky Citrus Park Christian team to clinch a playoff berth with a 78-68 win.
The Lancers (15-8) poked holes in AATL’s zone early. A 3-pointer from Cambridge Christian’s Curtis Walls gave his team a 38-31 lead late in the first half. Walls led his team with 20 points.
“We just knew they weren’t gonna go down easy,” Haslam said of Cambridge. “They don’t go down easy in the middle of December, much less in the district tournament.”
Haslam’s Wildcats didn’t go down easy, either. A 3-pointer from Tony Arrington midway through the third quarter sparked AATL for good. Arrington answered a Luke Steinle jumper with another trey, and teammate Malik Hall sank a 3 moments later to give his team a 50-48 lead.
The Wildcats never trailed again.
“We get runs like that,” Haslam said. “When we score, we score in bunches.”
A pair of free throws by Cambridge’s Brandon Park tied the game at 67 with 28 seconds left. That’s when Ethan Haslam soared for the inbounds pass and sank a layup. Haslam, Ahkil McGill and DeAndre Williams hit four free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory.
Arrington led five Wildcats in double figures with 22 points. Haslam added 14, and Williams scored nine of his 11 in the second half to propel AATL to a district title matchup with Tampa Bay Christian (19-1).
Citrus Park Christian (17-9) took a 39-38 lead early in the third quarter after Drake Wagner’s 3-pointer, but TBC rattled off an 8-0 run to take the lead for good.
Don Grantham served as the Rams’ interim coach after the departure of head coach Jerry “Ice” Reynolds on Monday. Grantham declined to comment on the reasons for Reynolds’ exit.
Last month, the Florida High School Athletic Association confirmed it was investigating TBC. An attorney representing the school said at the time that the FHSAA was looking into recruiting allegations.