LAKELAND — Teams that face Boca Ciega never seem to play their best, or even close to it, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by Pirates coach Will White.
Neither have the excuses that often seem to follow.
"We get a lot of, 'We didn't shoot the ball well,' or 'We didn't play our best game,' " White said. "I'd like to think we had something to do with that."
In Wednesday's Class 5A state semifinal at the Lakeland Center, another Boca Ciega opponent, Pensacola Pine Forest, looked overmatched. But after the Pirates' convincing 58-33 win, the Eagles — whose previous four defeats were by a combined 19 points — had no problem giving their opponent credit.
"They did their job," Pine Forest coach Chris Godwin said. "We've gotten beat this year, but not that bad."
Boca Ciega (30-1) can cap a spectacular season at 7 tonight in the 5A final. The Pirates face Fort Lauderdale Dillard, a 67-55 winner over Winter Haven.
Boca Ciega is in the championship game for the first time since 1996, when the Pirates won the second of back-to-back titles — the only two in the program's storied history. Under White, Boca Ciega also reached the final four in 2008 and '09 but each time lost in the semifinals. Last year, the Pirates' title bid ended with a 42-41 loss to Davie Nova.
"I just want to finish it," Boca Ciega senior guard Latavia Dempsey said.
Boca Ciega led just 14-10 after the first quarter and 27-22 at the half, but a 17-4 run that started in the third quarter and stretched into the fourth broke things open and Pine Forest (24-5) never recovered.
As the game went on, "we definitely got our confidence up," Dempsey said.
Dempsey, a 5-foot-6 standout who will compete for Florida Atlantic next season, played a significant part in the win, finishing with 19 points.
As usual, junior guard Tamara Taylor also came up big. Although she was only 6-of-17 from the field (as a team Boca Ciega went 22-for-61), Taylor totaled 18 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
"Those two are very good ballplayers," Godwin said.
Dempsey and Taylor had plenty of help.
Boca Ciega got nice production from freshman forward Destiny Brown, who had nine points and seven boards, and reserve forward Jakera Allen, a sophomore who tallied eight points and four rebounds.
"We had some other people step up," White said.
On defense, every Pirate contributed.
Against heavy pressure, Pine Forest was 9-of-29 at the break from the field, and that turned out to be the good half. In the final two quarters, the Eagles made only three of 30 shots, as seemingly every attempt came with a hand in the face.
"I don't think we get enough credit for our defense," White said.
Another win might change that.