ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg has found its groove at the right time. The Green Devils knocked off undefeated Tampa Bay Tech 85-77 in Tuesday's Class 8A region semifinals. The victory places St. Petersburg in a region final for the sixth consecutive season.
Junior guard Serrel Smith led all players with 36 points, which included 28 in the first half alone. Senior guard Darius Banks paced him with 20 points of his own while senior forward AJ Ford had 11. The Green Devils will travel to Lakewood Ranch on Friday.
"We've been there before. This is not unfamiliar territory for us," St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell said. "With the leadership of AJ, Darius, we just go off their lead. Serrel, he's a man of his own. He can light it up at any time."
Leading 64-54 after three quarters, St. Petersburg (17-10) did all it could to fend off the pesky Titans. Tampa Bay Tech (23-1) fought back from a 55-37 deficit at the break to make it a game.
Junior forward Tyrese Williams fought through foul trouble to finish with a team-best 16 points for Tampa Bay Tech. Junior Tyrick Brascom and sophomore Jamarcus Robertson paced him with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Banks, however, proved to be too much for the Titans down the stretch. He attacked often to score a team-high nine fourth-quarter points. For him, this marks the fourth straight year that he'll play in a region final.
"It's an accomplishment, but we are not done," Banks said. "We still have three games left to go. We are taking it one game at a time."
Banks suffered an ankle injury earlier in the season that kept him out of action for a while, and Smith and the rest of the unit had to carry the way. Banks said his ankle is getting better each day.
As for the team chemistry, he says that's been the same ever since he returned to action.
"We are always in the gym," Banks said. "As soon as my ankle got better, I was back in the gym with the guys 24/7."
Up next, a trip to Bradenton on Friday as St. Petersburg battles a Lakewood Ranch team that is 26-2. The Mustangs have a trio of guards, seniors Sam Hester and Devin Twenty and junior Damien Gordon, that score in bunches.
"Lakewood Ranch is going to be a great game," Blackwell said. "They are playing well and they are well coached."
Banks shared his excitement about finishing the job outside of his team's home gym.
"We love playing on the road," he said. "It's better for us; we get hyped for that."