The dream season continues tonight for four area boys basketball teams, three of which will play for a spot in next week’s Florida High School Athletic Association state semifinals in Lakeland.
Santa Fe (Alachua) will travel to No. 1 seed Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville), the top-ranked team in the all-classification regional rankings, for an FHSAA Class 4A-Region 1 semifinal matchup.
Last Thursday, the Raiders defeated No. 5 seed Gadsden County (Havana), 66-41, to advance. Junior point guard Dontrell Jenkins matched his season average with 18 points in the win, followed by sophomore Braylon Guyden (15), junior Makhi Lewis (10), and junior Kyren Washington (8).
Glen Banks is in his first season as head coach of the Raiders (16-7). He took over for Elliot Harris, who led Santa Fe to a run all the way to the Class 4A state championship game last season, their first title game appearance in school history.
“The guys bought in and started understanding their roles,” Banks explained. “Familiarity was also key. I had been with most of the guys as an assistant coach on the state runner-up team.”
It will be a tough match-up against the Tigers (26-2), who escaped with a 63-60 win at home against Marianna in the regional quarterfinals. Jackson, which lost to Bishop McLaughlin (Spring Hill) in last year’s 3A state semifinals, was Class 3A state runners-up in 2020.
“Andrew Jackson is a very good team with a lot of experience,” noted Banks. “We will have to rebound the ball well against their huge front line, stick to the game plan, and limit turnovers.”
Bradford (Starke) is one win away from the Class 1A state semifinals. The Tornadoes (13-10) crushed Bell, 59-30, in the 1A-Region 3 semifinals and have won five in a row.
“I think one of the keys to our success this year has been our ability to not let outside influences detour us from our goal, our ability to adjust and stay aggressive on both sides of the floor,” said Bradford coach Sampson Jackson. “One of our biggest factors to our success has been our ability to keep the end goal in mind, keeping the main thing the main thing. We’ve experienced a heck of a lot of challenges this season, some basketball related, some not, but we’ve survived it all. To me, that, and belief in ourselves no matter what anyone else said about us, got us to this point.”
In order to get to the next point—a spot in next week’s Class 1A state semifinals—the top-seeded Tornadoes will have to beat Madison County at home tonight in the rubber match between the two teams.
The No. 2 seed Cowboys eliminated No. 3 seed Dixie County (Cross City), 76-39, in the other regional semifinal.
Bradford, which is ranked fifth in Class 1A by MaxPreps, lost at home to Madison County, 48-45, on Jan. 15. However, the Tornadoes defeated the Cowboys (16-11) on the road, 47-44, on Feb. 4. Four players scored in double figures for Bradford in the second meeting, led by Chalil Cummings with 13 points.
“Effort and Energy is what’s going to win the game,” Jackson said. “They are a team full of energy, so we know we have to come out to play. It will come down to who wants to win the most. We’re excited about the opportunity to bring the community out to witness something great.”
Trenton will play at Hawthorne in the Class 1A-Region 4 Final with a spot in Lakeland hanging in the balance.
The visiting Tigers (18-10), who are ranked sixth in Class 1A by MaxPreps, defeated Newberry, 45-35, behind junior Xavier Jones’ game-high 16 points, while Hawthorne edged Williston, 49-46, in the other regional semifinal behind CJ Ingram’s game-high 20 points.
It’s the second straight trip to the regional finals for Trenton, which lost to Madison County in last year’s region final.
“Making back-to-back regional finals is special,” said Trenton coach Cedric Booth, who has turned around the Tigers’ program in just his third season. “It means a lot to the program and the city of Trenton as a whole. The coaches I come across tell me to just enjoy the ride so that’s what I’m going to do.”
In order to advance to Lakeland for the first time, Trenton will have to beat the No. 1 team in the state on the road.
“Hawthorne is a very tough team,” Booth said. “They play a very aggressive in your face style that causes many turnovers. We will have to face that pressure head on if we stand a chance of winning. It should be a very good game.”
The Hornets (10-4), who lost in last year’s regional final at Wildwood, are seeking their second state title in three years.
“We’ve had to get a lot done in a short amount of time this season,” said Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie, whose team has had limited games due to health reasons. “Normally I know exactly who my team is by this time of year, but due to limited games/practices I’m still figuring these guys out. In spite of that our goals and intentions are the same each year, get to the regional championship game and give yourself a chance to get to Lakeland.”
This will be the first meeting this season against the Tigers, but Hawthorne has dominated the series going 17-0 since 2007.
“Trenton is playing great basketball right now,” Bowie said. “It’s about peaking at the right time. We’re going to have to keep (Tyler) Perry from attacking deep into the paint and we’re going to have to stay attached to their shooters. They have at least four to five guys that shoot the three ball really well.”
All games tip at 7 p.m.
Class 4A-Region 1
No. 4 Santa Fe (Alachua) at No. 1 Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville)
Class 1A-Region 3
No. 2 Madison County at No. 1 Bradford (Starke)
Class 1A-Region 4
No. 2 Trenton at No. 1 Hawthorne – Radio broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and audio online at IamCountryRadio.com beginning at 6:30 p.m.