LARGO — Mitchell pushed Largo harder than it ever did before, pushing itself right into a fourth-quarter lead.
But when the going got tough in Friday's Class 6A, District 10 title game, the host Packers rode senior Brandon Jones and junior Jonathan Crawford to an impressive 62-50 victory.
Trailing by 12 going in the second half, the Mustangs (22-5) spread out its offense, letting point guard Brian Powers (10 points) and forward Lawrence Watt (19 points and 10 rebounds) go to work. By also containing swingman Donavan Hale (five second-half points after a 14-point, 10-rebound first half), Mitchell led 47-46 with seven minutes left.
"Brian was able to get into those gaps then find guys like Jonathan after Largo collapsed on him," Mustangs coach Jared St. Charles said. "My guys just gave a lot of effort and I'm proud of them."
"Donavan's big for us, and if you slow him down, you slow the whole team down," Largo coach Philip Price said. "The other guys didn't pick it up for a while, and we've got to have more than one guy step up."
Jones did, first by burying a 15-foot jumper off a miss to give Largo (23-2) the lead for good. The 6-foot-6 forward capped a 7-0 run with a layup off a Curtis Reed pass. A minute later, he knocked the ball loose at the midcourt sideline, saving it to Reed who found Crawford (seven points, six rebounds and five steals) for a layup. Finally, Jones unleashed a gym-rattling dunk with 1:15 left to give Largo a double-digit lead and fire up the fans.
"In the first half, I felt I came out lazy on the offensive end," said Jones, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals. "(Mitchell) came out running and we were running kind of slow. Once we got our motor running, it's a better game for us."
"We worked hard for two quarters. The first and third were not good but we kept fighting," Price said. "I tell them, it's the playoffs. You could be 25-0, lose in the districts and go home. It's happened to somebody every year. We've got to get up for 32 minutes every night."
Academy at the Lakes never trailed and cruised to a 54-25 road win over Cambridge Christian to secure the Wildcats' first district championship in program history.
"We've gotten closer and closer and finally got over the hump tonight," AATL coach Tom Haslam said.
The Wildcats (15-10) led 20-7 at the half and made its free throws down the stretch to secure their fifth consecutive victory.
Ethan Haslam scored 16 to lead AATL. Malik Hall scored 14, and Evan Gordy had 11. Brandon White led the Lancers (17-8) with six points.
Brooks DeBartolo drained 16-of-19 free throws down the stretch to edge Seffner Christian 47-43 in the semifinals and advance to the playoffs for the first time. The Phoenix will play Tampa Prep in today's district championship after the Terrapins' 64-33 win over Bishop McLaughlin.
"We're trying to build a tradition," first-year Phoenix coach Brian Reeves said. "We're extremely ecstatic about the win tonight."
Brooks DeBartolo (19-7) and the Crusaders (16-10) were within four points most of the game. Seffner Christian trailed by one with a minute left when Mike Obi stole the ball and sank two free throws to extend the lead. Obi and Brenden Huynh added two more free throws each in the closing seconds to preserve the victory.
Obi (20 points), Jarred Anderson (13) and Huynh (eight) combined to score 41 of their team's 47 points.
In the other semifinal, host Tampa Prep (22-3) took a 16-point lead after the first quarter and dominated the rest of the way. All 13 Terrapins scored and played all four quarters. Sophomore Juwan Durham led Tampa Prep with 20 points, and Michael Fridella scored nine.