As many as five boys basketball teams could be playing in Lakeland next week in the final four.
Two are already there.
Williston defeated Wildwood for a third time this season. The Red Devils (23-7) defeated the Wildcats, 66-63, in Tuesday’s Class 1A-Region 4 Final to advance.
Hawthorne edged Newberry, 43-41, in the 1A-Region 3 Final. The Hornets (11-6) are back in Lakeland for the fifth time in the past nine years.
“For these guys to come out with a short season, we kind of just had to start right away getting out late from football, so for these guys to come in and work with a shortened season that shows the type of competitive nature they have and it really shows how hard they worked so I’m proud of my guys,” said Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie. “They worked their butt off to get to the final four.”
Tonight, three more area teams look to punch their ticket to the state semifinals.
In a Class 6A-Region 1 Final, No. 2 seed Gainesville (23-6) travels to No. 1 seed Ponte Vedra (21-6).
The Hurricanes advanced with a 47-42 win at home against a one-loss Oakleaf (Orange Park) team in Tuesday’s regional semifinals.
“Oakleaf was a tough game,” said Gainesville coach Mike Barnes. “Going into the game I felt our movement on the offensive end would allow us to be successful against them. They did a good job of guarding us one-on-one and denying passes. Ultimately, we started attacking the basket more and although many of our shots weren't falling, we were able to get offensive rebounds and putbacks off the misses.”
Oakleaf (24-2) actually led, 40-35, halfway through the fourth quarter, but GHS rallied late to stay alive.
“It was a gutsy performance by our guys,” Barnes said. “We found a way to win. We were able to hold them to four points in the fourth quarter and make free throws down the stretch to secure the win.”
Standing in the way of a final four berth is a Ponte Vedra team that has won 10 of its last 11 with its only loss to Oakleaf, 48-47, in the 6A-District 3 championship game.
Like GHS, they have three players that average in double figures, led by senior Israel Nuhu (13 ppg.).
“Ponte Vedra is well coached and has an experienced group of players,” Barnes said of the Sharks, who are seeking their second straight final four appearance. “They play extremely hard, press, and look to push the ball. And they can score it. We played them in the preseason this year and defended them well. They also have a great crowd over there.”
The Hurricanes, who are led by seniors Theo Stephens (16.5 points) and App State signee Josh Hayes (14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds), have won seven in a row since a 43-41 loss at home to 1A state semifinalist Williston.
“I'm very happy with how the season has gone so far,” Barnes said. “I can't say it has been easy, but what I will say is that I think since we have faced adversity this year, that has helped us and will continue to help us in each game as we move forward.”
A win would put GHS, which won its first district title in five years on Feb. 11, in the final four for the first time since 2015.
“This group has accomplished a lot, but we have a goal to win three more games this year,” Barnes said. “The first step in accomplishing that goal is trying to win in a tough environment at Ponte Vedra Friday night.”
Tonight's game will be broadcast online (Audio only) at MainStreetDailyNews.com beginning at 6:45 p.m.
Columbia (Lake City), which is the No. 3 seed in 5A-Region 1, will travel to top seed Mainland (Daytona Beach) (23-5).
The Tigers (20-9) made the long trek to Pensacola on Tuesday and defeated Booker T. Washington, 69-55, in the regional semifinals to advance.
“The key was improved rebounding and the defensive adjustments we made in the second half,” said Columbia coach Steve Faulkner. “First half didn't go as well as we hoped, but we were able to regroup at halftime and play much better in the second half.”
Mainland, which has won 11 in a row, has six players that are 6’4 or taller, including 7-footer DeAndre Newland.
“My biggest concern with Mainland is the length and ability to control the glass,” Faulkner said. “We have struggled in games this season when we have not rebounded well. My other concern is their group of guards who are capable of scoring the ball. It will be a good challenge for us.”
It’s a good season overall with 20 wins, a district title, and a regional final appearance. The Tigers are looking to get back to the final four for the first time since 2020 when they lost in double overtime to Dillard (Ft. Lauderdale) in the 6A state semifinals.
“I would say this season has been successful to this point, but the guys and myself are not satisfied,” Faulkner said. “We set numerous goals this season and have only achieved a few of them. There is still work to do.”
Santa Fe (Alachua) is one win away from its first final four since falling in double overtime to Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale) in the 4A state title game in 2021.
This past Tuesday, the top seeded Raiders cruised to a 60-38 win at home against No. 5 seed Cocoa in the regional semifinals.
“Defense was the key to the Cocoa win,” said Santa Fe coach Glen Banks. “I think we played solid team defense.”
In order to make their second final four in three years, the Raiders (22-6) will have to beat No. 2 seed The Villages at home tonight in a Class 4A-Region 2 Final.
The Buffalo (21-8) are led by 6’9 forward Sam Walters (23.4 points and 10.1 rebounds), an Alabama signee.
“Rebounding is always a concern for us,” Banks said.
Santa Fe, which had an 18-game winning streak snapped with a 71-69 loss to North Marion (Citra) in the 4A-District 5 title game, is 11-2 at home this season.
“Our kids this season have done everything we asked them to,” Banks said. “We came together as a family and team. The season was full of ups and downs but our kids kept working and I'm so proud of them.”
The tip for all three Elite Eight games tonight is at 7 p.m.