LAKELAND — Bayshore Christian spent all season preparing for this moment. Tougher games were scheduled. Players developed more cohesiveness. Confidence grew in the postseason.
It resulted in the Faith Warriors’ first trip to the state boys basketball semifinals since 2001.
The work did not stop. Bayshore Christian formulated a plan to keep its eight-game win streak going. The players practiced at the University of Tampa to get accustomed to a bigger arena and the depth perception issues that can cause problems on long-range shots in Lakeland’s RP Funding Center. Faith Warriors coach Broderick Day studied video in hopes of finding a way to slow down Orlando Christian Prep in Wednesday’s Class 2A semifinal.
The measures taken were successful, at least early on. But it was not enough. The Warriors, who had won two state titles and played for another in the past three seasons, used that experience to their advantage in a 74-53 victory.
Orlando Christian Prep (28-2), ranked eighth overall in the state and 85th nationally by MaxPreps, will play in its fourth straight title game Friday.
“They’re ranked in the top 100 in the nation,” Day said. “We gave them everything. They knew we were coming.”
This was supposed to be a game dominated by the Warriors’ big guys, a game played above the rim. That much Day knew.
Bayshore Christian does not have anyone taller than 6-4 and was giving up at least 3-5 inches in height to Orlando Christian Prep’s top post players.
So the Faith Warriors’ game was based on speed and cunning. The game in the air was changed to a game on the floor. Bayshore Christian (19-9) swept up the leftovers dropped by the big men, taking the ball and zipping in the other direction.
And when the Faith Warriors had a shot from the outside, they took it.
The 3-pointer became their little man equalizer. Bayshore Christian made jumpers from both sides of the court, off the dribble and from behind screens, in heavy congestion and away from it.
CJ Crews, a junior sharpshooter, took the bulk of them. He hit two in the first quarter. Others contributed, too. Senior David Fitzgerald corralled rebounds. Sophomore Andre Benalcazar swooped in for steals.
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The Faith Warriors went up 7-2 and maintained the lead for nearly the entire first quarter. Staying ahead of Orlando Christian Prep, even for a brief moment, was a major accomplishment.
But it was not enough to beat the Class 2A powerhouse. The Warriors eventually bore down, using their considerable size to take the lead in the waning seconds of the first quarter — and never relinquishing it.
“The thing people don’t realize is we don’t have a big man,” Day said. “We’ve been doing this all year with small forwards and guards, which is a tremendous accomplishment. That was the difference. (Orlando Christian Prep) was able to go inside and hit mid-range jumpers. Size does matter.”
Still, Bayshore Christian refused to quit.
Crews kept firing away from the outside, hitting four straight 3-pointers at the start the third quarter to cut the deficit to seven points. He finished with 20 points before fouling out.
“CJ can shoot in any arena,” Day said.
The Faith Warriors spent the entire season overcoming adversity with the loss of senior guard Jeremiah Wicks, who tore his ACL, and 6-foot-5 freshman forward Harvey Wilson, who left the team.
But Orlando Christian Prep (28-2) was just too talented, too deep, too experienced to pull off what would have been a monumental upset.
“We came together and we made it,” said Fitzgerald, who finished with a team-high 21 points. “We played hard and we never gave up.”