We went two up and two down in our regional final forecasts. Norland and Stranahan was a tough battle in Fort Lauderdale but Stranahan was able to outlast the Vikings and return to Lakeland. In Jacksonville, Pensacola Pine Forest traveled a long way to knock off top-ranked Riverside in what was one of the bigger surprises of Friday night. Orlando Jones and St. Pete High both won at home to give us a .500 record.
Best Matchup: All four teams are very similar to one another and this may be the most wide-open classification of them all. All four teams have quality athletes, play hard at both ends of the floor, and use defense to fuel their offense. Don’t expect a track meet in any of the three games. No one team has a size advantage over another or trots out a player that is clearly superior in talent.
Best Chance for an Upset: As close as these teams are in size, athleticism and playing style, there will be no upsets regardless of who wins any of the three games.
Fort Lauderdale Stranahan over Pensacola Pine Forest
St. Petersburg High School over Orlando Jones
Fort Lauderdale Stranahan over St. Petersburg HS for Class 5A state title
We went an even 2-2 in our regional final picks in this classification. The biggest stunner of Friday night was Martin County winning on the road at Pembroke Pines Charter and doing so without their sophomore standout Elijah Duval. Kudos to the Tigers. Winter Haven pulled a surprise by going into Lakeland and winning. The teams played a close game earlier in the year in the same venue but sometimes this season there was a question of which team from Winter Haven might show up. Clearly, the right one showed up Friday night. Finally, we have to ask: Did Sumner REALLY score only eleven points against Tampa Wharton in the regional final? Just find that hard to conceive.
Best Matchup: Of the two semi-finals, we think the Martin County/Tampa Wharton game has the most intrigue. Expect Wharton to control tempo while the Tigers of Martin County will try to speed things up. While both teams have stellar records, Martin County’s strength of schedule is over three times that of Wharton. We’ll see if tough games in the Kingdom of the Sun and facing some of South Florida’s tougher teams like Dwyer and Pines Charter will have them ready for Lakeland.
Best Chance for an Upset: It just feels like Winter Haven beating #3 Ponte Vedrea would be more of an upset than Wharton defeating Martin County. The Blue Devils are young but they no doubt will have a partisan home crowd on their side. Winter Haven certainly has a size advantage and at times junior Dylan James or sophomore Isaac Celiscar can take over games. It will all depend on which Winter Have team takes the floor.
Stuart Martin County over Tampa Wharton
Ponte Vedra over Winter Haven
Stuart Martin County over Ponte Vedra for Class 6A state title
Another 2-2 record is really frustrating. It was a close one up in Sanford but the home team Seminoles fended off a young but talented team from nearby Orlando Oak Ridge. In Kissimmee, the host Osceola Kowboys and visiting Lake Worth Trojans played an exciting and very close contest for the first three quarters. In the fourth, Lake Worth dominated by a score of 22-2 to win decisively. The top two teams in the classification as well as the state overall, Orlando Dr. Phillips and Christopher Columbus, both won at home.
Best Matchup: Of the semi-finals, the best matchup on paper should be Columbus vs. Lake Worth. Both teams rely on underclassmen. While Lake Worth will have an advantage in speed, Columbus has a size advantage and doesn’t hesitate to use it. Truthfully, the best matchup will be IF DP and Columbus meet in the finals.
Best Chance for an Upset: Surprisingly, Seminole may have the best chance for an upset. They are playing their best basketball right now and there have been times this season where Dr. Phillips has played down to their competition. If that should happen again in Lakeland, DP could get caught napping.
Orlando Dr. Phillips over Sanford Seminole
Miami Christopher Columbus over Lake Worth
Dr. Phillips over Christopher Columbus for Class 7A state title