Bartow's 54-48 victory against Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer in Wednesday night's Class 5A semifinal puts Sickles at a home-court disadvantage for Thursday's state title contest.
Bartow, situated just south of Lakeland in central Polk County, is likely to bring a throng of roughly 3,000 fans -- if not more -- for the final against the Gryphons. At least the Gryphons know what they're in for.
"We played 'em at least 10 times during the summer," Sickles coach Renaldo Garcia said. "A lot of our kids play on the same travel-ball team with the Bartow kids."
For those Gryphons fans not quite as familiar with the Yellow Jackets as Garcia, here's a scouting report:
Bartow Yellow Jackets
Coach: Terrence McGriff (eighth year, 125-97)
Road to the final: defeated Lake Wales 61-55, Kathleen 47-45, Newsome 60-58 and Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer 54-48
Last final four appearance: 2009
Players to watch: PG Jeremiah Samarrippas, 5-10, Sr. (11.3 ppg, 7.3 apg); F Vincent Reid, 6-3, Sr. (9.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg); G Weedlens Beauvil, 5-11, Sr. (10.7 ppg)
Need to know: Bartow, led by a strong nucleus of seniors, is seeking its fourth state title. ... Watch for a dazzling backcourt matchup pitting Samarrippas against Sickles counterpart Jordan Davis. Samarrippas had 24 points and eight rebounds against Dwyer; Davis had 22 and six in the other semifinal against Niceville. ... Like Sickles, the Jackets' defense can be downright daunting. None of their last nine opponents have reached the 60-point mark. ... According to the fact sheet Bartow provided to the FHSAA, the community "is still a place where the entire town comes to the games to cheer the team on." Sickles fans will see evidence of that in The Lakeland Center seats tonight.