TAMPA — Marshall Holmes had seen the opening all night.
The Community School of Naples’ guards would tempt him by dribbling the ball tantalizingly high, but the Berkeley Prep senior didn’t want to gamble by trying to poke it out from behind.
After Holmes saw his Buccaneers’ 14-point lead shrink to single digits midway through the fourth quarter, he finally took the chance that punched his team’s ticket to Lakeland.
Holmes’ steal and ensuing three-point play sparked a game-sealing stretch to help Berkeley coast to an 80-64 win over CSN in Friday night’s Class 4A region final. The victory seals Berkeley’s second trip to state in the past three seasons and sets up a rematch against Lake Highland Prep, which beat the Bucs 62-54 last month.
“The emotions are running high right now,” Holmes said. “It feels great to be back.”
Berkeley (27-3) pulled ahead early by pressuring the Seahawks (29-1) and forcing five turnovers in the first 5:20. The Bucs finished the night with nine steals, including four from Craig Bowman and three by Texas Tech signee Justin Gray.
Berkeley led by 10 at halftime and used a 9-0 run midway through the third quarter to open a 48-31 lead.
“As dangerous as they are at the 3-point line, it’s never over,” Bucs coach Bobby Reinhart said.
The Seahawks closed the gap with four 3s in the fourth quarter. CSN star Jeff Merton scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the period and hit a free throw that cut Berkeley’s lead to 56-49 with five minutes left.
Moments later, Holmes made one of the night’s biggest plays. He saw a CSN guard dribbling the ball high and finally decided to attack from behind.
“He didn’t even know it was coming,” Holmes said.
Holmes poked the ball out to Gray, who lobbed it ahead to Holmes. The 6-foot-3 guard made a tough layup and drained the ensuing free throw to reignite the home crowd. Berkeley scored seven of the next 10 points to put the game out of reach.
Holmes led Berkeley with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Gray finished with 20 points and eight boards. Bowman (16 points) and Jacob Mathis (12) also scored in double figures for the Bucs.