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Region boys basketball: Rojas keeps Freedom's run alive

DOVER — As Freedom coach Cedric Smith watched Strawberry Crest harass his Patriots by trapping them and forcing turnovers in the backcourt, he saw some potential good, too — an opening underneath.

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Freedom junior Miguel Rojas found that soft spot in the closing seconds Tuesday night to make the biggest bucket in Patriots history.

Rojas' layup with eight seconds left gave Freedom a 42-40 road win over Strawberry Crest in the Class 7A region semifinals, extending the deepest playoff run Freedom has ever had to within four quarters of a trip to state.

"It's just unbelievable," senior Daniel Thompson said.

Freedom (18-6) struggled in the first half, going scoreless for more than five minutes, but its defense never let the Chargers (22-7) get ahead by more than seven points.

Strawberry Crest forced seven of Freedom's 18 turnovers in the fourth quarter. A steal and layup by Isiah Channer gave the Chargers a 34-29 lead with five and a half minutes left.

"We knew buckets were going to come," said Rojas, who finished with a team-high 14 points and eight rebounds. "We just had to lock down on the defensive end."

Thompson answered with his only four points of the game to cut the deficit to one and set up a fantastic finish. The final four minutes featured four lead changes and two ties.

Rojas made a layup with 34 seconds left to go ahead 40-38, but Chargers guard Malik Channer responded with two free throws to tie the game again.

That's when Smith drew up the winning play on the bench.

"I wouldn't say it was some John Wooden play or anything," Smith said, "but we do it every day in practice."

As the seconds ticked away, Rojas set a high screen and dove to the opposite block. Thompson saw Rojas flash out of the corner of his eye at the last moment and threw him the ball at the basket.

"The weak side was open, just like Coach drew it up," Thompson said. "It was there."

And Rojas made it, completing the biggest win in school history.

Sheldon Odunna added 13 points and six rebounds for the Patriots. Malik Channer led Strawberry Crest with 15 points, and Isiah Channer paced the Chargers' defense with four steals.

Class 6A

Lennard 73, Largo 68: Lennard coach Danny Gaddis brought up a Super Bowl champion and equated his team's play to a boxing match after Tuesday' Class 6A region semifinal.

"We play 12 rounds and they played our brand of (fast-break) basketball, but we got some separation," he said, adding, "Defense wins championships, like the Seahawks."

In a game of constant momentum swings, in part due to more than 30 combined turnovers, the Longhorns (24-4) did their collective best to bottle up Largo post player Brandon Jones, who missed a handful of close-range shots but still scored 11 points.

Host Lennard held a 36-34 halftime lead, rallying from a seven-point deficit at one point, before breaking the game open with a 23-14 advantage in the third. Caelen Watts, held scoreless in the first half, hit three 3-pointers and scored 10 of his 12 points in the first four minutes of that frame.

"Coach (Gaddis) told me to stay confident," said Watts, a senior point guard. "Just keep putting up shots and it'll come to me."

Added Gaddis: "He's a gamer. Everybody has to be ready, whoever it was."

Lennard built a 13-point lead at one point in the third, but the Packers (25-3) twice pulled within five points in the fourth before running into foul trouble.

Diontae Johnson led the Longhorns with 17 points and Gary Hector scored 10.

Largo's Donavan Hale scored a game-high 20, which included an emphatic reverse dunk in the second quarter.

Lennard, which has yet to lose at home, continued its record-breaking season with its second ever playoff win.

Class 8A

St. Petersburg 63, Wharton 45: Dayon Griffin could have driven the lane for his fourth dunk of the game — or put up an uncontested layup. But with St. Petersburg running and 51/2 minutes remaining, the Louisiana Tech commit stopped from 25 feet and swished a 3-pointer.

It was the exclamation point in visiting St. Petersburg's Class 8A region semifinal victory.

"Our biggest thing was that we wanted to make sure (Wharton) was going to get in a track meet with us," said St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell, whose fourth-ranked Green Devils are in their 11th regional since 2003. "(Wharton) is really good in transition and you have to make them work for a basket."

St. Petersburg (22-3) never trailed and took 18 more shots than Wharton (20-7). The Green Devils overcame first-half foul trouble as Griffin (17 points), Ben Clare (16) and Terrell Burney (14) missed 17 total minutes. St. Petersburg was whistled for 13 fouls to Wharton's four by intermission.

Leading 40-34 midway through the third quarter, St. Petersburg started a 12-1 spurt that was capped by a Clare layup on its first possession of the final quarter. The Green Devils' largest lead came at 61-37 as Griffin's three-pointer capped a 9-0 blitz.

"We got some scores in the second half (Wharton made its first five field-goal attempts), and then we turned the ball over and gave them some easy buckets," Wildcats coach Tommy Tonelli said. "(St. Petersburg) thrives off turnovers, and their best offense is transition off of turnovers."

Chase Litton scored 23 points and Jack Taylor 11 for Wharton, which beat St. Petersburg 50-49 on Dec. 28 for the Northeast Holiday Invitational championship.

Correspondents Don Jensen and Steve Lee contributed to this report.

Region boys basketball: Rojas keeps Freedom's run alive 02/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:18pm]

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