SEFFNER — Standing in the middle of a raucous celebration on the Seffner Christian basketball court Tuesday night, senior Darius Lue announced that the Crusaders "never had a doubt!"
It didn't matter that Orlando First Academy had won 22 straight games, had three Division I-A signees and years of state playoff experience. It also didn't matter that Seffner Christian was playing for something it had never accomplished in school history: A trip to the boys state final four.
"We knew we could do it because we have played a lot of tough teams this year," Lue said. "We knew we were ready for this."
Were they ever.
When the final horn sounded in Tuesday's Class 4A regional final — and the crowd stormed the court and hugged their players — the result looked huge on the scoreboard: Seffner Christian 67, First Academy 49.
"Now we're going to state next week to play at the Lakeland Center," Lue said. "We believe we can win there, too."
Through the first half on Tuesday, it appeared the game could go either way. First Academy (26-2) never held a large advantage but it also never trailed and led 27-23 at intermission.
In their respective locker rooms during the break, the coaches relayed distinct messages.
TFA coach Chris Mayberry told his players that although they didn't shoot well and made some uncharacteristic mistakes, they still held a four-point lead. Mayberry said that if they just cleaned some things up they should be fine.
Seffner Christian coach Sam Moorer said that although his team came out a little too pumped up and was a little out of synch, they only trailed by four. Moorer said now that they got all their nerves out of the way, they could come out in the second half and get in a groove.
Moorer proved prophetic.
Seffner Christian (24-6) took its first lead, 33-31, midway through the third quarter and steadily stretched its advantage the rest of the way.
And as they have done all season, many Crusaders shared the spotlight.
There was Lue, the point guard who scored 11 points and controlled the tempo, and there was Reid Walker who led the team with 21 points along with guards Donald Jordan and Derek Webster, who had 16 apiece.
There also was a host of Crusader defenders who held down TFA's big three: 6-foot-5 Wake Forest signee Chaundee Brown (13 points), New Hampshire point guard signee Elijah Jordan (11) and 6-8 Clemson signee Malik William, who finished with only two points.
"I couldn't even tell you how many points those guys had," Moorer said. "All I know is that we played great. I am so proud of these guys I can't even begin to explain it."