Ridaught: Let’s hear it for the boys

Gainesville boys basketball vs. Buchholz
Gainesville's Theo Stephens (left) and Josh Hayes could face Buchholz in Friday night's Class 6A-District 2 championship game. The Hurricanes and Bobcats will play opposite of each other in Wednesday's district semifinals with a spot in the title game on the line. (Photo by C.J. Gish)
Photo by C.J. Gish

It looks like we will be adding one additional Alachua County team in this year’s boys basketball state playoffs, which begin next week.

It’s certainly possible we could have more as district tournament play begins this week.

Before the season began, I noted that Gainesville, Eastside and Buchholz all missed the postseason last year, which is rare for the trifecta.

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But at least Gainesville High will join the dance this year.

The Hurricanes (19-6) are one of the best teams in the area.

“As a whole, I thought our regular season went about as well as can be expected,” said second-year head coach Mike Barnes. “We played a competitive schedule which I think will benefit us for the playoff run. We had some guys out with injuries at different points this year, but what I am most happy about now is that we are playing well, and healthy heading into the playoffs.”

GHS, which is currently the No. 2 seed in 6A-Region 1, has locked down a postseason berth. 

However, the ‘Canes, who are the No. 1 seed in this week’s 6A-District 2 tournament, are hoping to win a district title and secure a first round home playoff game.

Gainesville's Anthony Leivonen drives past Columbia's Seth Stockton on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Gainesville’s Anthony Leivonen has averaged 10.1 points per game this season.

They will host the winner of Tuesday’s quarterfinal between Chiles (Tallahassee) and Leon (Tallahassee) in Wednesday night’s district semifinals (7 p.m.).

A victory would send them to Friday night’s district championship game (7 p.m.) against either rival No. 2 seed Buchholz, or the winner of No. 3 Lincoln (Tallahassee)/No. 6 Mosley (Lynn Haven), who play in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

“To win our district tournament, we will need to be solid defensively,” Barnes said. “We have had some flashes this year, where I have been really impressed with our half-court defense. If we can defend at a consistently high level, I think we are a tough team to beat.”

They also boast three players in double figures in Theo Stephens (16.6 ppg), Josh Hayes (13.4), and Anthony Leivonen (10.1).

Buchholz is on the outside of the bubble, if you will. 

The Bobcats (12-13) have also played a tough schedule, but they’ve gone just 5-6 since the start of 2023.

“I was pretty happy with the way the season went,” said Buchholz coach Blake Golden. “We faced some injuries which kept us from reaching our full potential. But I’m happy with how we pushed through adversity.”

The Bobcats have not played Mosley or Lincoln this season but they lost both games to GHS and would likely need to win the district tournament to get into next week’s state tournament.

Golden said there are a couple of things his team will have to do to clinch a postseason berth, which is awarded to the district champion.

“We are going to have to play better defense and rebound the ball,” he said.

Columbia (Lake City), which also missed the postseason last year, is the top seed in 5A-District 2 thanks to a solid season under coach Steve Faulkner.

“I think overall it went well,” he said. “We did let some games slip through our hands but I think we have learned from the mistakes we made in those games.”

The Tigers (16-9), who are led by senior Isaac Broxey (16.8 ppg), finished the season winning five of their last six games.

They will play either Middleburg or Ridgeview (Orange Park) in Wednesday’s district semifinals and are the favorites to take home the district title.

“The two big keys for us this season have been rebounding and limiting turnovers,” Faulkner said. “We have been doing a better job of late but it needs to continue moving forward for us to be successful.”

Eastside (9-14) is much improved after winning only four games all of last season. However, they will have to win the 4A-District 5 tournament in order to make the playoffs. 

The Rams will play Keystone Heights in Tuesday’s district quarterfinals, but top seed Santa Fe (Alachua), which has won 17 in a row, awaits in the district semifinals.

P.K. Yonge is likely to make a return trip to the regionals.

P.K. Yonge's Moses Horne
Photo by C.J. Gish P.K. Yonge’s Moses Horne led the Blue Wave with 16 points per game this season.

The Blue Wave (12-10) are playing their best basketball with a season-best 5-game winning streak heading into Tuesday’s 3A-District 2 semifinals against defending 1A state champion Bradford (Starke), who P.K. Yonge defeated soundly, 77-32, on Jan. 3.

“The season has had its highs and lows at times in which we didn’t respond well to adversity and came up short as a result,” said P.K. Yonge coach Boderick Johnson. “For the past six to seven games, the cohesiveness on both ends of the floor has improved which I credit to our senior leadership. I’m extremely pleased where we’re at as a team right now.”

Moses Horne (16 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 steals), Eli Harris (11 ppg, 4 rpg, 2 steals, 3 assists), and Isaiah Cooper (10 ppg, 7 rpg, 2 steals) are hoping to lead the Blue Wave to their first district title in two years.

“Our intensity and focus has to be on point consistently for us to be in position to be successful for us to win our district tournament,” Johnson said.

A total of four Alachua County teams made the postseason last year (Hawthorne and Newberry in 1A, P.K. Yonge in 3A, and Santa Fe in 4A), but another newcomer, in addition to GHS, could be Oak Hall.

The Eagles (16-4) may need to win the 2A-District 4 tournament to get in as they are currently battling Harvest Community (Jacksonville) (18-7) for the eighth and final spot in Region 1.

For four straight years, there has been a new champion in Class 1A (Bradford – 2022, Wildwood – 2021, Hawthorne – 2020 and Madison County – 2019). That trend will continue.

Class 1A-District 7 has to be one of the tougher districts in the state though as the top two seeds are highly ranked and No. 3 seed Trenton (14-11) and No. 4 Chiefland (14-9) have had winning seasons.

Williston, which is ranked No. 2 in the state in 1A by MaxPreps, is seeded second in the district tournament. That’s because Wildwood, which is ranked No. 1 in the state, is in their district.

It’s been a great year for the Red Devils (18-7), who swept 6A GHS this year, and Newberry, which split with Williston.

The Panthers (20-5), who are ranked third in the state in 1A, are the top seed in 1A-District 6.

“I thought the season so far has gone well,” said Newberry coach Patrick Green. “We’ve had some young players to step in and play a lot of minutes for us this year.”

Newberry could match up in the title game with No. 2 seed Hawthorne (7-6), which is ranked seventh in the state.

“It’s going take us playing our best game to date to win a championship,” Green said. “We have to be careful not to beat ourselves and fight until the end.”

All in all, it’s been a pretty good season for boys basketball in the area. Now the real fun begins.

The FHSAA regional playoffs begin next Thursday, Feb. 16.

BOYS (District Tournaments)

6A-District 2 (at Higher Seeds)

Wednesday, Feb. 8 (Semifinals)
Leon/Chiles winner at No. 1 Gainesville, 7 p.m.
Mosley/Lincoln winner at No. 2 Buchholz, 7 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship Game, 7 p.m.

5A-District 2 (at Higher seeds)

Wednesday, Feb. 8 (Semifinals)
Clay/Baker County winner at Rickards (Tallahassee), 6 p.m.
Middleburg/Ridgeview winner at No. 1 Columbia (Lake City), 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship game, 7 p.m.

4A-District 5 at Santa Fe (Alachua)

Tuesday, Feb. 7 (Quarterfinals)
No. 4 Eastside 
vs No. 5 Keystone Heights, TBD
No. 3 Palatka vs. No. 6 Suwannee (Live Oak), TBD

Wednesday, Feb. 8 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Santa Fe (Alachua) 
vs. Eastside/Keystone winner, TBD
No. 2 North Marion (Citra) vs. Palatka/Suwannee winner, TBD

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship Game, TBD

3A-District 2 (at Higher Seed)

Tuesday, February 7 (Semifinals)
No. 1 P.K. Yonge
 vs. No. 4 Bradford (Starke), 6 p.m.
No. 2 Interlachen vs. No. 3 Trinity Catholic (Ocala), 6 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship Game, TBD

2A-District 4 (at Higher Seeds)

Tuesday, Feb. 7
No. 7 Cornerstone Academy 
at No. 2 Redeemer Christian (Ocala), 6:30 p.m.
No. 6 Meadowbrook Academy (Ocala) at No. 3 Saint Francis Catholic, 7 p.m.
No. 5 Countryside Christian
 at No. 4 St. John Lutheran (Ocala). 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 8
No. 1 Oak Hall 
vs. St. John Lutheran/Countryside winner, TBD
Redeemer Christian/Cornerstone winner vs. Saint Francis Catholic/Meadowbrook winner, TBD

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship Game, TBD

1A-District 5 (at Higher Seeds)

Wednesday, Feb. 8 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Hilliard vs. Branford/Lafayette winner, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Madison County vs. No. 3 Hamilton County, 7 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship Game, TBD

1A-District 6 (at Higher Seeds)

Tuesday, Feb. 7
No. 5 Bell
 at No. 4 Union County (Lake Butler), 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 8
Union County/Bell winner at No. 1 Newberry, TBD
No. 3 Fort White
 at No. 2 Hawthorne, TBD

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship Game, TBD

1A-District 7 (at Trenton)

Monday, Feb. 6
No. 4 Chiefland
 vs. No. 5 Dixie County (Cross City), 5 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 7
No. 7 Cedar Key
 at No. 2 Williston, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Bronson
 at No. 3 Trenton, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 8
No. 1 Wildwood vs. Chiefland/Dixie County winner, TBD
Williston/Cedar Key winner vs. Trenton/Bronson winner, TBD

Friday, Feb. 10
Championship Game, TBD

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