TAMPA — Headed into halftime, Sickles had seen its 11-point lead shrink to one as Palmetto’s Jarrid Rhodes came off the bench to score 12 second-quarter points, including three 3-pointers.
That was just the start of the Tigers’ sharpshooting from behind the arc.
Thanks to Jordan Smith’s 23 second-half points, buoyed by a 4-of-8 performance from 3-point range, Palmetto stunned Sickles at home 63-58 Tuesday in a Class 6A region semifinal. The Tigers made 11 3s in total.
“I’ve been in this, this is my 10th year, and I’d have to say that was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen,” Gryphons coach Renaldo Garcia said of Smith. “We did the best we could with changing up defenses to try to frustrate him a little bit, but he seemed to always be on the receiving end and answer whatever we threw at him.”
Smith missed all seven of his first-half shots. But both times Sickles (22-7) clawed back to within two in the third quarter, he answered with a momentum-killing 3-pointer. His biggest, though, came with one minute left in the game.
Palmetto (16-12) had a 57-55 lead but had yet to hit a free throw in the quarter, and Sickles was intent on stopping the clock. Smith received the inbound pass for the Tigers on the left sideline, and he was able to dribble through a designed trap all the way to the top of the key, where he let an off-balance shot fly that swished through the net. Smith effectively closed out the game by making three of four foul shots.
“I challenged him at halftime because somebody said that he was scoreless,” Palmetto first-year coach, Reggie Bellamy, said. “And I told him he ain’t going to go through the whole game scoreless.”
Juniors Devante Mitchem (20 points) and Malcolm Johnson (13) scored in double figures for the Gyphons, who will return four starters next season.
Standout performances from Tuesday night
Adonis Rwabigwi, Tampa Prep: The 6-foot-8 Rwanda native had a monstrous night (20 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks) in the Terps’ 76-44 romp of Lakeland McKeel.
Leah Vail, Tampa Catholic: The freshman pitcher tossed a two-hitter and had a double — one of 13 Crusaders hits — in her team’s six-inning, 11-0 romp of Berkeley Prep.
Justin Gray, Berkeley Prep: The lanky sophomore scored 24 points — including a 5-for-6 night from the free-throw line — against Avon Park to put the Buccaneers to within a game of the final four.
Jimmy Hegret, Jefferson: The Dragons’ ace picked up the win and hit a double as Jefferson rebounded from Monday’s loss for a 6-4 win over King.
Tre Leonard, Robinson: In his final prep game, the Knights senior forward scored a game-high 22 in his team’s playoff loss at Jesuit
By the numbers
3 Hits surrendered by the Bloomingdale pitching staff, led by winning pitcher Cody Crouse (who doubles as the Bulls’ starting QB), to defending Class 6A state champion Alonso in a 5-0 win
4 Home runs totaled by Chamberlain’s softball team in its 13-2 rout of Gaither. Ellen Scott, Lindsey Hagberg, Jennie Cook and Madison Gonzalez accounted for the shots.
4 Home runs totaled by Jesuit’s baseball team in its 18-0 rout of Spoto. Lance McCullers, Max Beermann, Conor O’Brien and Ricky Escobar went deep for the Tigers.
4 Starters who will return for Sickles’ basketball team next year — Brett Westwood, Raymond Santiago, Malcolm Johnson and Devante Mitchem
5 Dunks totaled by Tampa Prep in its rout of McKeel. Senior Devontae Morgan had three, including one off an inbound alley-oop from Josh Heath
8 First-inning runs scored by Plant City’s softball team in its five-inning, 14-1 romp of Hillsborough