Suddenly, the road to Lakeland has become far less congested. In Tuesday's boys basketball region semifinals, only three of eight county teams kept their state tournament hopes alive. Tonight, that resilient triumvirate takes the court with final four berths at stake. Newsome and Sickles are seeking their first state tourney appearances; Tampa Prep is eyeing its sixth. All games start at 7 p.m.
Tampa Prep (25-4) at Naples Community School (24-5)
Winner plays: Pensacola Christian-Port St. Joe winner in Friday's Class 2A state semifinals
How they advanced: Tampa Prep defeated Lakeland Christian 84-29 and Calvary Christian 78-33; Naples Community defeated Admiral Farragut 57-43 and Shorecrest 58-36
Tampa Prep has leaned on: Senior F Jay Bowie. Moments after nearly tallying a double double (20 points, nine rebounds) against Calvary Christian, Bowie received a scholarship offer from Division I Marist. He's averaging 16.3 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Naples has leaned on: Junior F Kent Coyne. When he wasn't helping shut down Shorecrest's hot-shooting guards with Appalachian State signee Mitch Woods, Coyne was scoring 24 points, which included four 3s. If tonight's game is tight, Coyne, a 6-foot-4 team captain, is the last player Tampa Prep wants to foul; he's 11-for-11 from the line in the playoffs.
Quotable: "They've got some size and they create some matchup problems for us. But I also think we create some matchup problems for them. They've got size, we've got athleticism, so I think it will be an interesting game." — Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon
Did you know? This will be the third region final meeting between these schools in the past four years. Tampa Prep won the previous two.
Clearwater (24-6) at Sickles (27-2)
Winner plays: Gainesville-Niceville winner in Wednesday's Class 5A state semifinals
How they advanced: Clearwater defeated Largo 67-42 and Gibbs 63-46; Sickles defeated Bradenton Manatee 47-35 and Punta Gorda Charlotte 42-37
Clearwater has leaned on: Six-foot-9 FSU commitment Okaro White may be the center of the Tornadoes' offense, but complementary players abound. Junior G Joey Nungester had 18 points in Tuesday's region semifinal win over Gibbs.
Sickles has leaned on: Senior PG Jordan Davis. Tuesday night, coach Renaldo Garcia essentially handed the game to Davis, and the Monmouth commitment responded with a game-high 21 points. When he wasn't driving the lane or baseline for layups, Davis was sinking 5-of-6 free throws in the final 48 seconds to preserve the win.
Quotable: "People talk a lot about Okaro and he's a great player, but they're a well-balanced team and they play good basketball. They're going to make you pay in so many areas if you're not where you're supposed to be, so that makes every possession that much more important." — Garcia
Did you know? The Sickles coaching staff owns five total SEC championship rings. Garcia won one with the Florida men's basketball team in 1989, and Gryphons assistant Anthone Lott won four as a Gators cornerback in the mid 1990s.
Bartow (22-5) at Newsome (22-8)
Winner plays: Sebastian River-Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer winner in Wednesday's Class 5A state semifinals
How they advanced: Bartow defeated Lake Wales 61-55 and Lakeland Kathleen 47-45; Newsome defeated Springstead 63-34 and Ocala Forest 52-49
Bartow has leaned on: Senior PG Jeremiah Samarrippas, a starter for last season's final four team, is the type of savvy floor leader essential to a long playoff run. He scored 11 in Tuesday's thriller against Kathleen.
Newsome has leaned on: Rangy senior G Samal Shepherd. The Wolves' top scorer (17.4 ppg) in the regular season, Shepherd's mere presence makes Newsome dangerous. He was shadowed mercilessly in Tuesday's win at Forest, which opened things up for G Trent Mackey, whose 17 points included five 3-pointers.
Quotable: "I know them because they're with Florida Elite (an offseason travel ball program) and I'm with Florida Elite, so I know them personally and their coach (Terrence McGriff) personally. I know his kids and he knows my kids. They have a little more experience in this situation than we do, but our kids have done a nice job and responded well on the road the other night." — Wolves coach Jon Mackey
Did you know? Bartow has lost to only one in-state opponent this year, falling by three to nationally ranked Montverde Academy.