TAMPA — Whether it was because of an interim coach or a pesky opponent, Tampa Bay Christian let Citrus Park Christian hang around in Tuesday night’s Class 2A, District 8 semifinal.
In the fourth quarter, a Rams team ranked eighth in the state finally pulled away with 12 free throws to earn the first playoff appearance in program history by grinding out a road 78-68 victory.
“That was a dogfight,” said interim Rams coach Don Grantham, who has been associated with the school since 1998 and previously coached the girls basketball team.
Grantham took over TBC on Monday after the departure of coach Jerry “Ice” Reynolds, an NBA alum. Grantham declined to elaborate on Reynolds’ exit.
The Florida High School Athletic Association confirmed last month that it was investigating TBC’s basketball program. An attorney representing the school told the Tampa Bay Times then that the FHSAA was looking into recruiting allegations.
Grantham’s Rams (19-1) jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the Eagles (17-9) began to make it interesting. Citrus Park Christian sank seven 3-pointers in the first half to crawl back into the game.
“They lit it up from the perimeter,” Grantham said.
Eagles captain Drake Wagner drilled a 3 early in the third quarter to give his team a 39-38 lead — and spark a game-changing TBC rally. The Rams rattled off the next eight points to take the lead for good. Senior captain John Sayne scored four of his 13 points in that stretch.
“It’s just a matter of our intensity,” Grantham said. “When we’re not running hard, we’re flat.”
Rams 6-foot-10 junior Dan Manzi tallied 16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, and teammate Bryant Searcy led all scorers with 24 points. Lynrick Moxey added 21 points for TBC.
Raul Serrano led four Eagles in double figures with 19 points.
TBC advances to face Academy at the Lakes in Friday’s district final after the Wildcats rallied in the second half to come away with a 73-68 win over Cambridge Christian.
The Wildcats (14-11) took control with a 9-2 third-quarter run but found themselves tied with the Lancers (15-8) at 67 with 28 seconds left. That’s when Ethan Haslam hit a layup off the inbounds pass to help his team pull away.
AATL’s Tony Arrington led all scorers with 22 points. Curtis Walls (20 points) and Brandon Park (13) finished in double figures for Cambridge Christian.