The boys basketball state semifinals in Lakeland used to be an annual appointment for the Providence (Jacksonville) Stallions.
Providence advanced to the final four six times in eight year between 2010 and 2017, winning three state titles in 2010, 2013, and 2015 and finished as state runner-up in 2017.
But Jim Martin’s Stallions had hit hard times in recent years, losing in the regional finals a couple of times and making no trips to Lakeland in the last five seasons.
But that changed this year as Providence advanced to the 3A state semifinals and, although they were upset at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland by eventual state runner-up Windermere Prep, the Stallions had a fantastic 28-3 season and finished up wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the Prep Zone Boys Basketball Power Poll.
Providence’s only two losses during the regular season were to eventual 7A state runner-up Winter Haven in the championship game of the Kingdom of the Sun in Ocala on Dec. 29, and ripped off another 12 wins in a row before losing their final game of the regular season to Barron Collier (Naples), who just missed a trip to the 5A state semifinals after dropping a one-point region final to St. Petersburg.
The Stallions blasted Bishop Snyder (Jacksonville) and No. 16 Episcopal (Jacksonville) to win District 3-3A, and then after two easy wins in the first two rounds of the state playoffs outlasted defending 3A state champion Florida High (Tallahassee), 58-55, in overtime to advance to Lakeland.
Providence finished No. 1 due to a loaded schedule which includes wins over RV Riverside (Jacksonville), No. 8 Oakleaf (Orange Park), No. 2 Ponte Vedra, No. 11 Impact Christian Academy (Jacksonville), No. 4 North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville), and two wins over No. 15 Nease (Ponte Vedra).
Providence, who finished ranked No. 2 in 3A and No. 7 statewide regardless of classification according to Max Preps, received six of the nine first-place votes.
Picking up the other three first-place votes is 6A state runner-up Ponte Vedra. The Sharks (23-7) move up three spots from the previous poll after finishing as state runner-up for the second straight year.
Ponte Vedra was the top seed in Region 1-6A and won their opening round game easily at Wiregrass Ranch (Wesley Chapel) and beat Gulf Breeze at home in the region semifinal before slipping past No. 7 Gainesville in the region final, 72-61. Ponte Vedra made 12 three-pointers in the win over Gainesville, and followed that up with nine more treys in an easy 63-41 state semifinal win over Wekiva (Apopka), with senior Sam Ritchie a perfect eight-for-eight from behind the arc at the RP Funding Center.
Unfortunately, the Sharks offense went cold in the state championship game against Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens) as they lost, 51-40. But Ponte Vedra, who had never even made it to the state semifinal round until 2022, now has back-to-back state runner-up finishes to build on.
Ponte Vedra finishes behind Providence as the Stallions beat the Sharks in the regular season 60-45 on Jan. 6.
Another state runner-up, 5A Mainland (Daytona Beach), finishes at No. 3. The Bucs (25-6) advanced to their first state championship game appearance since 1998 when they won their last boys basketball state title. But it wasn’t easy.
Mainland edged Riverside 32-29 in the Region 1-5A semifinal, then had to hold off No. 9 Columbia (Lake City), 35-34, in the region final to advance to Lakeland. The Bucs continued to win with defense in the 5A state semifinal, topping St. Petersburg, 43-38, to advance to the state championship game against Belen Jesuit (Miami).
Unfortunately for Mainland, the Wolverines defense was even tougher, as Belen Jesuit shut down the Bucs for a 49-30 win to claim the state title.
Class 2A state semifinalist North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville) finished at No. 4.
The Eagles (22-9) advanced to Final Four for the second year in a row and sixth time in ten seasons, but came up short for the second year in a row, 71-65, to Sagemont (Weston), who edged Orlando Christian Prep, 68-67, for the 2A state title.
Rounding out the top five is Ribault (Jacksonville). The Trojans (25-5) rolled through Region 1-4A to advance to their first state semifinal appearance since 2017. Ribault lost a close 43-39 decision to No. 6 The Villages in Lakeland, but remains a spot ahead of the Buffalo in the final rankings.
The Villages leads off the second five. The Buffalo (23-9) move up eight spots from the previous poll after making their first state championship game appearance in school history. The Villages edged No. 17 North Marion (Citra), 54-53, in the Region 2-4A semifinal, then went on the road to win 66-60 at No. 12 Santa Fe (Alachua) to advance to the final four for the third time since 2017.
The Villages edged Ribault to advance past the state semis for the first time, but ran out of gas in a 77-41 setback to Mater Lakes Academy (Hialeah) in the 4A state title game.
Gainesville ended at No. 7 after advancing to the Region 1-6A final, where they were eliminated at eventual 6A state runner-up Ponte Vedra. Oakleaf, who Gainesville defeated, 47-42, in the Region 1-6A semifinal, finished at No. 8.
Columbia took the No. 9 spot after nearly rallying past Mainland and just missed out on their second trip to the final four in four seasons.
Rounding out the top 10 is 1A state champion Williston.
The Red Devils (25-7) won their first state boys basketball title after holding off Chipley, 58-49, in Lakeland. Williston defeated a 7A playoff team in Alonso (Tampa), a Georgia playoff team in Lovett from Atlanta, defeated 6A Gainesville twice, including handing the Hurricanes their only loss of the season at home.
Williston defeated RV Wildwood three times including in the District 7-1A championship game and again on the road in the Region 4-1A final to advance to Lakeland for only the second time in school history. Williston had no trouble with Franklin County (Eastpoint) in the state semifinal game and led Chipley 31-10 at halftime of the state title game.
Chipley made it interesting in the second half before the Red Devils held on for the state title.
Williston moved up 10 spaces from the previous poll.
Among the Mainstreet Daily News area teams in the second 10 are No. 12 Santa Fe (Alachua).
The Raiders (22-7), who were 4A state runner-up in 2021, just missed out on another trip to Lakeland after losing to The Villages in the Region 2-4A final.
Hawthorne moves into the final rankings at No. 18 after advancing to their third state semifinal in four years and seventh in the past 12 years under coach Greg Bowie. The Hornets (11-7) came up just short in Lakeland, losing 49-46 to Chipley.
Hawthorne is the only team new to the rankings from the last poll. The Hornets replace Mount Dora Christian Academy, who was 19th previously.
The Prep Zone Power Poll ranks the top 20 high school football, girls basketball, boys basketball, softball & baseball teams (regardless of FHSAA classification) across 26 counties in North Florida (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Madison, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, Sumter, St. Johns, Suwannee, Taylor, Union & Volusia counties). It is voted on weekly by sportswriters and sportscasters and it is powered by Anytime Fitness of Gainesville.
THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL BY ANYTIME FITNESS OF GAINESVILLE – 2022-23 BOYS BASKETBALL POLL #7 (FINAL POLL)
(School, followed by classification, first-place votes, final 2022-23 record, and total voting points)
Teams in bold are inside the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area.
1. Providence (Jacksonville) (3A) (6) (28-3) – 174
2. Ponte Vedra (6A) (3) (23-7) – 169
3. Mainland (Daytona Beach) (5A) (25-6) – 147
4. North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville) (2A) (22-9) – 143
5. Ribault (Jacksonville) (4A) (25-5) – 139
6. The Villages (4A) (23-9) – 126
7. Gainesville (6A) (23-7) – 114
8. Oakleaf (Orange Park) (6A) (24-2) – 107
9. Columbia (Lake City) (5A) (20-10) – 104
10. Williston (1A) (25-7) – 102
11. Impact Christian Academy (Jacksonville) (2A) (20-9) – 100
12. Santa Fe (Alachua) (4A) (22-7) – 84
13. Paxon (Jacksonville) (4A) (20-6) – 83
14. Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (21-9) – 64
15. Nease (Ponte Vedra) (6A) (18-9) – 53
16. Episcopal (Jacksonville) (3A) (21-7) – 40
17. North Marion (Citra) (4A) (21-7) – 31
18. Hawthorne (1A) (11-7) – 28
19. Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville) (4A) (15-13) – 20
20. St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine) (2A) (21-7) – 15
Also receiving votes: Newberry (1A) (22-7) – 9; Riverside (Jacksonville) (5A) (15-12) – 9; Wildwood (1A) (20-8) – 8; Mount Dora Christian Academy (2A) (22-7) – 5; Lake Minneola (Minneola) (6A) (16-11) – 3; Forest (Ocala) (6A) (19-8) – 2.