It is a tall task for the Blue Devils of Winter Haven, taking on top five Corona Centennial out of California. Winter Haven is certainly talented enough to compete. Let’s hope that is reflected on the scoreboard.
Winter Haven struck first with a drive and score from 6’6 junior Isaac Celiscar. Centennial quickly grabbed the lead with a mid-range jumper from 6’10 senior Devin Williams and a three-point play from 6’4 senior and Duke signee Jared McCain. A transition basket by 6’3 senior Matthew Vaughn got the Blue Devils back to within one. McCain scored on a drive for Centennial but a three from 6’5 junior Jamie Phillips of Winter Haven tied the score at 7-7 with just under four minutes to go. Back-to-back threes from McCain gave Centennial a six-point lead but after a score from 6’9 senior and Georgia recruit Dylan James, Centennial scored five unanswered five points to push its margin to nine. A three from Winter Haven’s Phillips finished out the scoring for the quarter, with Centennial up 18-12.
Centennial got a free throw from 6’3 senior Mike Price early in the second, but a pair of James free throws and a three-point play by Celiscar got Winter Haven back to within striking distance, 19-16. Centennial then took off, scoring ten unanswered points, highlighted by a lob dunk from 6’6 senior Aaron McBride to go up 29-16 with 3:15 left in the half. James ended the Winter Haven drought with a thre-point play, but the damage had been done. By the end of the second quarter, Centennial was up thirteen, 35-23.
A three-point play by Centennial’s 6’4 junior Eric Freeny made it seem like Winter Haven was in a world of trouble. That wasn’t to be the case as James and Celiscar each scored at the rim for Winter Haven. Price knocked down a mid-range jumper for Centennial but Winter Haven scored six straight, highlighted by a dunk inside from James. Now Winter Haven was down just seven, 40-33, with 3:40 to play in the third period. McCain connected on a jumper for Centennial, but Winter Haven wasn’t done. Celiscar scored six straight points to bring the Blue Devils to within three, 42-39. McCain hit a three for Centennial but that was offset by a three from 6’1 senior Kjei Parker. After a Centennial turnover, Parker struck from behind the arc again, tying the game at 45-45 with just under a minute left in the quarter. McCain was able to convert a three-point play for Centennial on its next possession. Winter Haven wasn’t able to score before the horn and Centennial now led by just three, 48-45 with one quarter remaining.
Winter Haven drew within one after a Phillips bucket inside. McCain scored in traffic for Centennial but a three from Parker tied the game at 50-50 with 5:30 to play. Centennial got a free throw to go, but Winter Haven got a score from Celiscar to take its first lead of the game since 2-0. That lead would change hands seven times in the next three plus minutes as both teams threw haymakers at one another. With 1:18 to play, McCain connected on a mid-range jumper to make the score 59-58 in favor of Centennial. Winter Haven drew a foul on its next possession but missed the front end of the one and one. Centennial grabbed the rebound. Winter Haven attempted to force a turnover but was eventually forced to foul. McCain connected on both to give Centennial a three-point lead. Winter Haven couldn’t get off a good shot to tie and Centennial advances with a hard fought 61-58 win.
McCain led Centennial with 29 points while McBride tossed in 10 points.
Winter Haven was led by Celiscar with 18 points. Both James and Parker connected for 13 points and Phillips finished with 12 points.