After a little more than two weeks of regional competition, with upsets and buzzer-beaters glooming the scenery, the road to Lakeland, FL has officially arrived.
Home to where the FHSAA 1A-7A state semi-finals and finals are hosted, South Florida welcomes eight teams to the Final Four, with some schools eyeing historic runs.
That said, the job isn’t over for anybody. With two more wins to go before being crowned victorious, anything could happen – literally.
Here is one question for each team entering Wednesday and Thursday as playoff hopefuls.
Calvary Christian: Will they keep their foot on the gas?
The Eagles knew they would be in this position from the jump.
Through the likes of big-time transfers coming to the program, coach Cilk McSweeney used the summertime as a chance to compete as the KT Kings with his group, where they experienced hardships and also developed comfortability in big stages. Having been together as a unit since May, the lights were deemed not bright enough to keep Calvary off track, sweeping past Jupiter Christian (78-63), St. Andrew’s (61-58) and Santa Fe Catholic (75-58).
Now their route to their first 3A state title since 2017 features a semi-final showdown against Miami Country Day. For obvious reasons – all-around talent, depth, athleticism – Calvary Christian opens as heavy favorites, but that shouldn’t keep them from not playing their typical brand of basketball.
Truly, this is a trap game at its finest. Taking things likely could only add to the shocking upsets we’ve seen thus far in South Florida. Calvary Christian needs to keep things moving for two more games.
Miami Country Day: Will their seven game winning-streak expand?
The Spartans have been red hot as of late. With seven consecutive wins heading into Wednesday’s contest versus Calvary Christian, only time will tell if they can continue producing that same type of firepower.
Miami Country Day’s road to states was quite a rodeo, starting with a blowout win against Somerset Academy Central Miramar and followed by a nail-biting victory over Chaminade-Madonna. The pair of dubs allowed for a Regional Finals meeting between an Archbishop Carroll team coming off wins over Westminster Christian and Florida Christian. The Spartans ultimately took care of business, earning them a spot in Lakeland for the first time in school history.
Senior Jordan Cooke, one of the team’s leading scorers (17.1 PPG), will look to put MCD on the map vs. a nationally respected McSweeney program. The numbers aren’t on his side, but anything could happen.
Mater Academy: How far can they go?
Now, they’ll take on an unfamiliar Charlotte team Thursday with a chance to move onto the state title game. Mater has no particular similarities with the Fightin’ Tarpons, other than a game versus Calvary Christian in which they fell 75-49. The Lions, too, played the Eagles, but lost to them 76-67 after failing to hold a fourth-quarter lead.
The truth is, only time will tell if Rodriguez’s squad can continue striving in honor of longtime coach Shakey Rodriguez. The duo of Sanchez and junior Jimel Lane is a mission to withstand, and it could just give them that extra push needed.
Expectations are high for the 20-2 group. It’s about time a state title is delivered back to Miami-Dade.
Pine Crest: As the difficulties arise, can the Panthers remain in perfect form?
The Panthers haven’t lost since December 19, garnering a 16-0 record since then. That included a pair of wins over North Broward Prep and North Miami Beach en route to the 4A state semi-finals, where they’ll face Astronaut this upcoming Thursday.
Pine Crest, headlined by the 2022 unit of Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson, has cruised past opponents with ease, averaging 71.6 points per game as a team, while the twins combine for 42.3 points a night.
The question for them will be: can that success continue against unknown territory? The Panthers’ total domination has them climbing national charts, it’s up to them to keep that hype rolling.
Pines Charter: Will their redemption story come about?
They’ve been here before: with a chance at bringing home a 5A basketball state title for the first time in school history, just for things to collapse late and fall short of the ultimate goal.
Pines Charter is hungry, and they’ve demonstrated that during the course of the season. At 11-3, the Jaguars swept past their regional opponents and will now take on Jesuit, with a chance to finish where they left off.
Western: Can they keep things rolling?
Coming off a monstrous 74-46 win over Columbus, the heat is on for the Wildcats, who’ve now won five in a row. Like many of the teams in South Florida, they search for their first basketball state title in school history, which could go to show how much they want it.
Western’s 7A state semi-final contest features a Dwyer team on a winning-streak of their own, one that took them to the Final Four. Things will pan out the way the Wildcats choose to if their rhythm remains.
Dwyer: Time to represent Palm Beach?
The Panthers found a way to overcome falling in the 7A District 9 championship and transform it into a run to Lakeland, FL.
They represent Palm Beach in a semi-final contest against a Broward school in what’ll be a matchup between two of South Florida’s finest. Senior Rodrick Johnson Jr., who’s averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, will look to make an ultimate statement in his final year of high school.