LAKELAND — Tampa Prep guard Michael Fridella isn’t the biggest Terrapin, or the fastest. Coach Joe Fenlon acknowledged that Fridella might even be the last player chosen in a pickup game at the park.
But Tuesday afternoon at the Lakeland Center, Fridella was perhaps Tampa Prep’s most important player in its most important game of the year — a 64-49 win over Shorecrest in the Class 3A state semifinals.
“My last pick at the park had 21 tonight,” Fenlon said.
Tampa Prep (27-3) advances to play Sagemont (32-0) in today’s 4:35 p.m. state final — the fifth championship game appearance in Terrapin history. And Fenlon’s crew will have a shot at its second state title in the past three years largely because of Fridella.
Terrapin sophomore phenom Juwan Durham finished with a game-high 25 points and 17 rebounds but struggled early. At halftime, he was 3-of-11 shooting.
Fridella kept his team ahead and alive by scoring 10 in the first half — including six in a key 9-3 second-quarter run.
“We expected Juwan to get his 20…” Shorecrest coach Daryl Blume said. “But Fridella really hurt us bad.”
Fridella finished with 21 points on 10-of-20 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in a performance that needed no additional motivation.
Fridella once had a five-game losing streak to Shorecrest when he played for St. Petersburg Catholic before transferring to Tampa Prep, and he still holds a grudge against the Chargers.
“That’s actually the team I hate the most in all of Florida,” Fridella said.
Fridella’s scoring teamed with Durham’s defense to keep the Terrapins from ever trailing.
Shorecrest (21-5) missed its first eight shots, made only five field goals in the first half and shot 30 percent for the game. The Chargers had thrived all season on attacking the basket, setting up open outside looks or getting second-chance buckets, but Durham’s five blocks kept Shorecrest out of the paint.
“That was pretty much taken away,” Blume said.
Durham finally found his offense in the second half. He came out of the locker room with a defensive rebound, a jumper and one of his dunks to put Tampa Prep up 31-20.
Durham made all eight of his shots in the second half.
“He just gave me the look,” Durham said of Fenlon’s halftime motivation. “I knew I had to step up.”
Shorecrest still hung around in the second half. Tyee Johnson and Brady Grimm both drained 3-pointers that eventually trimmed an 11-point deficit to three.
The Chargers trailed by only nine with more than five minutes remaining before Fridella and the Terrapins made a final push. The junior sank a reverse layup and drained a 3-pointer moments later as part of an 11-3 run that iced the game to set up another showdown with Sagemont.
Tampa Prep topped Sagemont 58-50 here two years ago for the Terrapins’ only state title, but the Lions have only grown more dangerous since then. They topped Jacksonville Providence 78-59 in the other semifinal, are one of MaxPreps’ top teams in the country and boast two major Division I recruits — 6-foot-10 senior GG Goloman (UCLA) and junior guard Prince Ali (UConn).
“It’s something that every kid dreams about,” Fenlon said. “Playing for a state championship.”
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.