ST. PETERSBURG — After winning each of its first four games by more than 32 points, Berkeley Prep got what it coveted since the season began: a test.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers traveled to play Lakewood, a team that boasts three players who either signed with or will commit to Division I schools.
Berkeley Prep had shots contested, battled for tough rebounds and withstood withering pressure, all things that came easily as it rolled to a 4-0 start.
The Buccaneers were able to stay undefeated by holding off a late rally to beat the Spartans 62-55.
"We needed one of these kinds of games," Berkeley coach Bobby Reinhart said. "We needed something where we'd be challenged and have to execute more. I knew I was going to get that because Lakewood is a great program.
"Fortunately, we were able to separate ourselves at the end. But we needed every bit from our guys to win."
Early on, the game was even as the teams traded baskets. In the second quarter, the Buccaneers were able to go on enough of a run to take 28-22 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, Berkeley Prep put the clamps on Lakewood's Anthony Lawrence Jr., who was held scoreless in the quarter after finishing with 15 in the first half. That helped the Buccaneers increase their lead to 42-31 by the start of the fourth.
In the final five minutes, the Spartans' Jacobi Boykins and Lawrence started knocking down shots and the defense dialed up the pressure. That combination put a dent in the deficit as Lakewood (3-2) cut it to 54-50.
But Berkeley Prep's Justin Gray, a Texas Tech commit, was able to beat the press, hit a layup as he was fouled and connect on a free throw to complete a three-point play that put the Buccaneers ahead 57-50.
Sickles 52, Steinbrenner 45: Longtime Sickles coach Renaldo Garcia pulled forward Bryce Nickels aside Tuesday afternoon and talked to him about staying poised and keeping his focus during the team's game later that night.
It wasn't an ordinary night for Nickels, who faced a familiar opponent in Steinbrenner, the school he played at for two years before transferring in August.
But even with the butterflies swirling after seeing his former teammates, the 6-foot-8 Nickels remembered what Garcia had told him earlier and didn't get caught up in the emotions of the reunion.
Nickels kept his composure and scored a team-high 12 with seven rebounds and five blocks to lead host Sickles past the rival Warriors 52-45 in its Class 7A, District 8 opener.
"He was really excited to play against his old friends," Garcia said of his senior. "I thought he did a really good job and he was a real force on the inside."
The Gryphons (1-2, 1-0) never trailed, but Steinbrenner was able to keep it close thanks to junior Keshawn Ingram's game-high 19 points.
Holding onto a six-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, Nickels and the Sickles offense opened up a quick 9-0 run to take its biggest lead. The defense held its own, too, keeping the Warriors off the board for more than five minutes.
The final two minutes and 41 seconds, however, were much different as Steinbrenner began to hit its stride from the floor.
Led by a pair of 3-pointers by Ingram and two free throws from Jamal Byrne (eight points), the Warriors went on a 12-2 run to draw within eight. But a late block by Nickels and success from the free-throw line ended any chance of a comeback.
"There were definitely mixed emotions wanting to see them do well, but since I'm at Sickles now I really wanted that (win)," Nickels said.
"Sometimes you have to go and get grimy to get the W. That's what we had to do today. We fought hard and we came out with the win."
In the nightcap, the Steinbrenner girls survived a late comeback attempt by Sickles (4-2, 0-2) to escape with a 36-32 win.
Rachel Briere led Steinbrenner (7-0, 2-0 7A-8) with 12 points.
Jeff Odom, Times correspondent