Boys basketball region semifinals
All game Tuesday night at 7
Class 6A, Land O’Lakes (22-6) at Winter Haven (19-7)
Winner meets: Sickles/Palmetto winner in the region final Saturday
How they advanced: Land O’Lakes’ stingy defense held Lake Gibson to 10 first-half points, and the Gators cruised to a 53-30 win in the region quarterfinals. Winter Haven dominated Mitchell in a 71-29 home victory. Officials started a running clock midway through the third quarter.
Breaking it down: Jackson Cannon and Ernest McClendon have been two of the North Suncoast’s most underrated players. Cannon hit the winning bucket to beat Mitchell in the district title game and scored a team-high 14 points in the region quarterfinals. McClendon is averaging almost 18 points over his past three games, while Victor Obi has emerged as a solid low-post threat.
But the Gators will be tested by the Blue Devils. Winter Haven has a team full of long athletes and one of the state’s top players, 6-foot-6 wing DeVon Walker (24.1 ppg). Rivals calls Walker one of the country’s top 150 prospects, and he has offers from UCF and others. At one point in the second half against Mitchell, Walker had outscored all of the Mustangs 19-18.
Class 5A, Hudson (19-10) at Nature Coast (27-1)
Winner gets: Gainesville Eastside/Citra North Marion winner in the region final Saturday
How they advanced: Nature Coast star center Tyler Bergantino (32 points, 15 rebounds) dominated Wesley Chapel in a 68-53 Sharks victory. Hudson outrebounded a strong Eustis team and drained seven 3-pointers to take a 52-45 win.
Breaking it down: Hudson has had a great run after Jamal Branco’s foot injury had the Cobras hobbling to an 0-6 start. But he’s averaging 20 points per game since Jan. 1 to help Hudson advance to regionals for the fourth time in five years. The Cobras’ 6-foot-8 center, Andrew DiSanto, had one of the best games of his career in the quarterfinals (11 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) but will have an enormous challenge in Bergantino, a UMass recruit.
Bergantino has plenty of other weapons around him. Forward Rohan Blackwood is one of ESPN’s top sophomore prospects in the country. Caleb Martin and Blake Lowman have each drained more than 20 treys this season, and John Parker 6.8 ppg) has been a solid contributor at wing. The Sharks ended Hudson’s playoff run last year with a 62-56 victory in the region quarterfinals.
Class 2A, Winter Haven All Saints’ (11-5) at Academy at the Lakes (16-9)
Winner gets: Orlando Christian Prep/Faith Christian Academy winner in the region final Saturday
How they advanced: AATL used a strong second half and Abaz Igwe’s 13 third-quarter points to eke out a 49-48 win over Lake Wales Vanguard. All Saints’ squeaked by, too, to take a 56-55 victory over Cambridge Christian — despite being outscored 27-14 in the fourth quarter.
Breaking it down: The Wildcats don’t have much depth and have overcome foul trouble and a short bench to continue the best run in school history. Freshman guard Ethan Haslam (18.3 ppg) has scored in double figures every game this season while shooting 50 percent from the field. AATL has a handful of other key contributors. Jarrett Harvey (8.3 ppg) and Igwe (8.9 ppg) are important scorers, and Evan Gordy chipped in 10 points in the region quarterfinals.
The Wildcats will have to slow down Andy Moates, who scored 25 points and hit the winning jumper to beat Cambridge Christian. Reggie Evans (19 points, 10 rebounds against the Lancers) is also a potent threat for All Saints’.