The only thing Cocoa won on Tuesday night at Santa Fe was the opening tip.
The hosting Raiders took control midway through the first quarter en route to a 60-38 win in the Region 2-4A semifinals.
Following back-to-back close contests – a 61-58 win in the regional quarterfinals at Palm Bay (Melbourne) last Thursday and a 71-69 home loss to North Marion (Citra) for the district championship on Feb. 10 – Santa Fe dominated the visiting Tigers from the start.
Senior Don’trell Jenkins set the tone when he stole the ball at midcourt and raced untouched for a layup less than a minute into the contest to give the Raiders (22-6) a 2-0 lead.
No. 5 seed Cocoa (15-9) would trade baskets with top-seeded Santa Fe in the opening two minutes and the score was tied at 5-all before the Raiders’ defense clamped down.
Junior Braylon Guyden was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws and on the next possession, Guyden nailed a 3-pointer. Jenkins added another trey and senior Kyren Washington hit a 3-pointer to put Santa Fe up 17-5 with 3:20 left in the first quarter.
“Having a lot of energy on both sides, that’s the key to our play is making sure we take every possession as if it’s our last,” said Jenkins.
Senior Jamil Watson Jr. closed the period with two free throws and a basket as the Raiders held a 17-7 lead heading into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, Santa Fe turned up the defensive pressure even more. The Raiders went on a 17-4 run keyed by six points apiece from Jenkins and Washington as the Tigers had trouble getting the ball past midcourt.
A Guyden 3-pointer put Santa Fe up 38-11 with 47 seconds left in the half and the Tigers closed the quarter with a steal and layup at the buzzer to climb within 38-13.
“After the close game with Palm Bay – and we knew Palm Bay beat Cocoa –we knew we had a chance to win,” Washington said. “We just had to come out and want it. We came out fast and rebounded and did everything coach told us to do and we beat them.”
Cocoa entered the second half with a sense of urgency, hitting four 3-pointers in the third quarter and outscoring Santa Fe,18-12, to close within 50-29.
“That’s our problem really,” Washington said of the third quarter lull. “After halftime, we come out flat and teams come back. But in the fourth quarter, we started to pick it up and run the floor.”
Washington made sure of that as he scored eight of his game-high 20 points in the final eight minutes. And Jenkins added an and-one to finish with 18 points.
“It’s always good to play at home,” said Santa Fe coach Glen Banks. “I think we got a little hungry since we went on the road (to Melbourne) and it was so close. Last year in this game we got beat pretty bad by Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville). We made five field goals in the whole game.”
Senior Caleb Dobbs led Coca with 14 points.
The Raiders – who have won 19 of their last 20 games – will host No. 2 seed The Villages on Friday for the Regional Final. The Villages beat No. 3 seed North Marion, 54-53, on Tuesday.
Tuesday, Feb. 21 (Results)
Class 6A-Region 1
2 Gainesville 47, 2 Oakleaf (Orange Park) 42
Class 5A-Region 1
3 Columbia (Lake City) 69, 2 Booker T. Washington (Pensacola) 55
Class 4A-Region 2
1 Santa Fe (Alachua) 60, 5 Cocoa 38
Class 1A-Region 3
2 Hawthorne 43, 1 Newberry 41
Class 1A-Region 4
2 Williston 66, 1 Wildwood 63