Tampa Catholic stays calm when pressure mounts, returns to state

The Crusaders start hot, and Johni Broome keeps them in front when Titusville Astronaut makes a run.
Tampa Catholic senior Johni Broome, seen here earlier this season, scores 30 Friday night to help the Crusaders return to state.
Tampa Catholic senior Johni Broome, seen here earlier this season, scores 30 Friday night to help the Crusaders return to state. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Feb. 29, 2020|Updated Feb. 29, 2020

TAMPA — Just like in its Class 4A region semifinal victory three days prior, Tampa Catholic was aggressive out of the gate on defense, Friday night, guarding the rim and refusing to let Titusville Astronaut get many looks inside.

So the War Eagles backed up and started shooting.

Astronaut sank a 3-pointer on three consecutive possessions in the final minute of the first half to slash the Crusaders’ lead, and they kept delivering from beyond the arc in the second, hitting four more where that came from.

Every time, however, Tampa Catholic had an answer. For most of the game, it was in the form of Johni Broome.

All night, the 6-foot-9 forward made big baskets when the Crusaders needed them, and he scored 30 points to lead Tampa Catholic to a 93-69 victory and a state semifinal berth.

“I just try to help my team the best I can. If that means scoring or rebounding, that’s what I have to do,” said Broome, who came in averaging just over 19 points per game. “I’ve always been told to use my height to my advantage, and that’s what I did tonight.”

Tampa Catholic (25-5) took the lead with its second basket of the game, and Broome had 10 points in the second quarter to run up the score. The Crusaders led by as many as 18 points before the break, as it appeared they’d cruise by yet another playoff opponent.

Then the War Eagles’ 3s started falling. Coach Don Dziagwa admits he was taken aback.

“We had a video on them and they scored like 34 points, and we’re thinking, ‘Wow.’ But you know, in the course of the season, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I thought they really played well against us. I think we’re very fortunate.”

After cutting Tampa Catholic’s lead to 11 points before halftime, Astronaut (22-7) picked up where it left off. A 3-pointer by guard Ryan Farner followed by a successful pair of free throws made it a six-point game.

But as they almost always have all season, Tampa Catholic responded with heat of their own.

On Tampa Catholic’s next possession, Marcellus Crutchfield hit a 3-pointer, one of five the Crusaders had Friday. Astronaut responded with another deep basket, then Broome was fouled on a layup on the other end. He converted the three-point play.

Then he went off.

Using his height and fitness to his advantage, the senior forward flew up and down the court, outrunning the War Eagles and making easy baskets to run up the score once again. After Broome took over, Astronaut continued to attempt outside shots. This time, though, they didn’t fall.

Broome had another 10 points in the fourth quarter to help the Crusaders reach their third-highest point total of the season.

In its region semifinal win earlier in the week, Dziagwa warned his team about single-digit leads; they don’t take long to whittle away, he said.

But this time, the Crusaders stood their ground. They did so in the best way possible, as far as Dziagwa is concerned.

“The good part about it is, we were able to score points,” he said. “When you put 93 points on the board in a high school game, that’s pretty good.”

State boys basketball

At RP Funding Center, Lakeland.

2A: No. 4 Bayshore Christian vs. No. 1 Orlando Christian Prep, noon Wednesday

4A: No. 4 Lake Highland Prep vs. No. 1 Tampa Catholic, noon Thursday

6A: No. 4 East Lake vs. No. 1 Bartow, 8 p.m. Thursday