ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Clark has been unable to decipher his role for Lakewood this season after transferring over from Boca Ciega.
Tuesday night, he finally found the answer:
Right underneath the basket.
The senior cleaned up after his teammates time after time in a Class 5A region semifinal against Gibbs, boosting Lakewood past the Gladiators 63-60.
"I knew I was going to be the clean-up guy," said Clark, who finished with 23 points. "I had to find a way to get myself in the game and going at the rim is how I do that."
Neither team shot the ball well, but Lakewood had Clark to score six baskets off rebounds as the Spartans dominated inside for most of the game.
"Mike coming in this year was a big blessing, but for a while it was tough for him to find his way," Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence Sr. said. "He kept trying to find his place here. Tonight, he really came alive. He did everything we needed him to do."
Gibbs beat Lakewood (18-11) twice during the regular season by three and four points, but lost to the Spartans Tuesday and in the district final by three and four points, respectively.
The victory sends Lakewood to Cape Coral to face Mariner on Saturday. The Spartans haven't advanced past the region finals since 2008.
Though the game at Eckerd College was mostly close, Gibbs was always playing catchup. The Gladiators (18-9) only had one brief lead — 32-31 with 58 seconds left in the first half — as the Spartans made a 7-0 run to start the game hold up.
Clark's dunk gave Lakewood the 35-32 lead at halftime, and a dunk to end the third quarter by Jacobi Boykins (12 points) put the Spartans ahead 54-48 heading into the final eight minutes.
The teams exchanged baskets throughout the last quarter, until a Shaq Speights basket cut the Gibbs deficit to 62-60 with 35 seconds left.
After an offensive foul on Lakewood's Anthony Lawrence Jr., Gibbs had a chance to tie or take the lead, but missed a driving shot. Spartan guard Joc Ellison came up with the ball in the scramble, calling timeout with 4.9 seconds remaining.
He went to the free-throw line and made one to make it 63-60, and Gibbs raced up court for the tie. But its final shot attempt bounced off the backboard and swirled around the rim and out.
Shorecrest 73, Cardinal Mooney 63: Shorecrest coach Daryl Blume accurately describes junior guard Brady Grimm as a "scorer" and the Chargers needed every bit of his efforts Tuesday night. Grimm scored 21 of his 26 points in the second half as the Chargers rallied past Cardinal Mooney.
The Chargers struggled from the floor in the first half and found themselves down by as many as nine points in the second quarter. A basket by Chase Showalter gave Shorecrest a one-point lead but Cardinal Mooney led 26-25 at the half.
Grimm took over in the third quarter, hitting a 3-pointer to open the half and controlling the action with strong drives to the basket that scored or sent him to the line.
"Brady was very aggressive and he opened up things for our shooters a bit in the second half," Blume said. "But he is one of those players that's going to find a way to score and if that means taking to the ball in the lane he'll do it."
Grimm scored 12 in the third quarter and converted a three-point play to give Shorecrest a 43-34 lead. Kent Kilgroe and Kenny DeVaul added 3-pointers at the end of the quarter to give the Charges a 54-41 lead.
A 3-pointer from Tyee Johnson early in the fourth pushed Shorecrest's lead to 61-46, but Cardinal Mooney hung around and a 3-pointer from Jarred Aabel closed the gap to 69-63.
The Chargers tightened up on defense and Johnson (13 points) hit 3-of-4 from the line down the stretch to ice the victory.
Nature Coast 70, Tarpon Springs 56: After falling to Tarpon Springs in a close game earlier this season, host Nature Coast dominated the Spongers from the tip-off Tuesday.
Rohan Blackwood led Nature Coast with 19 points and 12 rebounds, serving as the alternate outlet offensively as Tarpon Springs (27-4) locked in on Carlos Clemente. Clemente, who leads the Sharks with 17 points per game, was held to eight points in the first meeting and 10 on Tuesday.
The key defensively was to stop point guard Trai Halton, who went for 15 points the previous meeting. Halton still had 11 points, five rebounds and five steals, but early foul trouble made his defense less effective.
Scottie James (21 points, 12 rebounds) stepped up offensively in the second half, but his efforts were not enough to close the gap any closer than six points before the Sharks (24-7) extended the advantage again.
Correspondents Corey Long and Derek J. LaRiviere contributed to this report.