Veteran guards key St. Petersburg win in region final

Published March 3 2018

On Friday, St. Petersburg had to go on the road for the second time in the playoffs, this time traveling to Fort Myers to play Riverdale in the Class 8A region final.

No matter. The Green Devils are accustomed to playing big games in all kinds of venues. After all, this was their eighth straight region final appearance.

The Raiders, meanwhile, were playing in their first region final, one season after winning just two games.

The difference in postseason experience showed.

St. Petersburg used that edge to their advantage, beating Riverdale 52-42.

"We've been in these situations before so we know what to expect," Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell said. "We've got some veteran guards on this team and they did what they needed to do."

This season, Serrel Smith and Tai Strickland joined forces, giving St. Petersburg one of the best backcourts in the state. Smith has played on varsity for the Green Devils for four years and was playing in his fourth straight region final.

Strickland, a transfer from Tampa Catholic, was playing in his third straight region final. Together, they have led programs to the state semifinals a combined four times.

The two are headed back to Lakeland to try to win it all.

St. Petersburg will play Pompano Beach Blanch Ely in Friday's state semifinals. The Tigers have won four titles in the past six seasons, including one against the Green Devils in the title game in 2016.

"We have to play Ely. We've got no choice," Blackwell said. "We'll be ready."