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Scouting Tampa Catholic, East Lake in today’s state semifinals

Tampa Catholic is back in Lakeland for the fifth straight year, while East Lake is making the trip for the first time.
Tampa Catholic's Kobe Knox has a chance to do something older brother Kevin never did: win a state title in high school. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
Tampa Catholic's Kobe Knox has a chance to do something older brother Kevin never did: win a state title in high school. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

Both games at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland today.

Class 4A: Tampa Catholic (25-5) vs. Orlando Lake Highland Prep (24-6); noon

How they got here: Tampa Catholic d. Gibbs 69-46, d. Lakewood 62-42, d. Titusville Astronaut 93-69; Orlando Lake Highland Prep d. Wesley Chapel 66-34, d. Anclote 63-54, d. Gainesville Eastside 59-42.

Top players: Tampa Catholic: F Johni Broome, Sr. (19.5 points, 10.9 rebounds); G Marcellus Crutchfield, Sr. (7.8 points, 4.4 assists); F Isaiah Elmore, Sr. (6.4 points, 6.2 rebounds); F Alijah Harrison, Sr. (9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds); G Kobe Knox, Sr. (17.1 points, 3.8 assists); Orlando Lake Highland Prep: G Jared Berry, So. (11 points, 2.8 assists); F Brice Sensabaugh, So. (17.3 points, 4.4 rebounds); G Victor Brown Jr., Sr. (12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds); C Gabe Ferguson, Jr. (10.1 points, 4.9 rebounds).

Related: Tampa Catholic’s Johni Broome finds his calling in the gym, not the gridiron

Outlook: The Crusaders are making their fifth straight state semifinal appearance, the longest streak in program history. Three starters — Broome, Harrison and Knox — have all surpassed 1,000 points in their high school careers. Knox is the younger brother of former standout Kevin Knox II, who went on to play at Kentucky and now is with the New York Knicks. Crutchfield’s father is Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy, who spent the bulk of his NFL career with the Buccaneers. Tampa Catholic fared well playing a brutal schedule, taking national powerhouse IMG Academy to double overtime before losing and beating Huntington Prep. Since returning from holiday break, the Crusaders have won 15 straight. On Wednesday, they practiced atUSF to get used to shooting in a bigger arena. The Highlanders are making their first state semifinal appearance since 2014 when they won their second straight title. Miles and Sean Stewart are brothers. Their father, Michael, played at the University of California and in the NBA. Berry is the younger brother of former Florida Mr. Basketball Joel Berry, who was named the most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament in 2017 when he led North Carolina to the title.

Class 6A: East Lake (26-3) vs. Bartow (28-1), 8 p.m.

East Lake's Jordan Hillmon has been a nice scoring complement to Dionte Blanch most of this season. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

How they got here: East Lake d. Lehigh 66-65, d. Punta Gorda Charlotte 68-36, d. Fort Myers 78-61; Bartow d. Melbourne 63-23, d. Winter Haven d. 61-49, d. Hillsborough 68-65.

Top players: East Lake: G Dionte Blanch, Sr. (24.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists), G Jordan Hillmon, Sr. (15.5 points, 3 rebounds), G Dean Gabrelcik, Sr. (12.7 points, 6.1 rebounds); Bartow: G Willie Clayton, Jr. (15.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists); F Josh Simons, Sr. (12.9 points, 8.4 rebounds).

Related: Murray State’s an obvious destination for East Lake’s Dionte Blanch once you see his court moves

Outlook: The Eagles are in the state semifinals for the first time. Blanch, a Murray State signee, already has surpassed the 2,000-point plateau in his high school career. In the region quarterfinals, he hit a last-second shot to beat Lehigh and save East Lake’s season. This week, the Eagles decided to keep their normal routine and practiced at their gymnasium rather than head to USF or the University of Tampa. The Yellow Jackets are in the state semifinals for the first time since 2014 when they were runners-up. Since losing in the third game of the season, Bartow has won 26 straight. The streak is not even close to setting a school record. The Yellow Jackets are not particularly tall, which makes this more of an even matchup. Clayton has an offer from Stetson and Simons has several offers from Division III schools.

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