TAMPA — Marshall Holmes had seen the opening all night.
The Community School of Naples' guards would tempt him by dribbling the ball tantalizingly high, but the Berkeley Prep senior didn't want to gamble by trying to poke it out from behind.
After Holmes saw his Buccaneers' 14-point lead shrink to single digits midway through the fourth quarter, he finally took the chance that punched his team's ticket to Lakeland.
Holmes' steal and ensuing three-point play sparked a game-sealing stretch to help Berkeley coast to an 80-64 win over CSN in Friday night's Class 4A region final. The victory seals Berkeley's second trip to state in the past three seasons and sets up a rematch against Lake Highland Prep, which beat the Bucs 62-54 last month.
"The emotions are running high right now," Holmes said. "It feels great to be back."
Berkeley (27-3) pulled ahead early by pressuring the Seahawks (29-1) and forcing five turnovers in the first 5:20. The Bucs finished with nine steals, including four from Craig Bowman and three by Texas Tech signee Justin Gray. Berkeley led by 10 at halftime and used a 9-0 run midway through the third quarter to open a 48-31 lead.
"As dangerous as they are at the 3-point line, it's never over," Bucs coach Bobby Reinhart said.
The Seahawks closed the gap with four 3s in the fourth quarter. CSN star Jeff Merton scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the period and hit a free throw that cut Berkeley's lead to 56-49 with five minutes left.
Moments later, Holmes made one of the night's biggest plays. He saw a CSN guard dribbling the ball high and finally decided to attack from behind.
"He didn't even know it was coming," Holmes said.
Holmes poked the ball out to Gray, who lobbed it ahead to Holmes. The 6-foot-3 guard made a tough layup and drained the ensuing free throw to reignite the home crowd. Berkeley scored seven of the next 10 points to put the game out of reach.
Holmes led Berkeley with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Gray finished with 20 points and eight boards. Bowman (16 points) and Jacob Mathis (12) also scored in double figures for the Bucs.
3A: Terrapins survive
TAMPA — A year ago, Tampa Prep missed the final four and a chance at defending its state title when a Florida Air Academy buzzer beater ousted the Terrapins from the playoffs.
And when Juwan Durham stepped up to the free throw-line in the fourth quarter of Friday's Class 3A region final, his team leading Orlando First Academy by just one point, the sophomore forward could think of nothing else.
"I did not want a repeat of last year," he said. "I just wanted to win that game."
With a dunk and an alley-oop in the first half, Durham had already put on a show. But down the stretch he came up even bigger, sinking 5-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter to help the Terrapins seal a 53-49 win. Tampa Prep will play in its ninth final four on Tuesday in Lakeland.
Durham came into the game just 17 shy of the 1,000-point benchmark. The 6-foot-9 forward, who led Tampa Prep with 27 points Friday, had 18 in the first half. After the game, coach Joe Fenlon gave Durham the game ball to commemorate his accomplishment.
"It's unreal," Fenlon said. "He's such an unflappable kid, too. He's drawn two or three guys beating him up every game, and he never shows emotion, he just does his job, and he does it well."
From the start of the game Friday, Durham and the Terrapins had their way with First Academy, shooting 68 percent from the floor. The Royals, who shot less than 30 percent in the first half, couldn't hit much of anything.
First Academy came out of the locker room after the break a different team. It finished the third quarter on 6-of-9 shooting, and a scrappy Royals defense force. With a 3 from senior guard Trey Winders at the 7:42 mark of the fourth, the Royals, who trailed by as many as 16 in the first half, pulled within one.
Fenlon said his team's excitement to get to the next level led it to take poor shots late. Still, Royals fouls repeatedly put Tampa Prep on the free-throw line, and the Terrapins delivered, making 10 of 12 in the fourth quarter.
Five second-half 3s had helped the Royals chip away at Tampa Prep's large lead. So down by two points with less than 17 seconds to go, First Academy attempted a go-ahead 3 that fell short. Michael Fridella grabbed the rebound, was fouled and sank two free throws on the other end to put the game away.
"We rebuilt," Fenlon said of graduating eight seniors from last season. "But when you rebuild with (Durham) in the middle, it makes life a little bit easier."
Kelly Parsons, Times staff writer