We took a relatively short drive up to Leesburg to catch a region semi-final in Class 5A. Tampa King, winners of eight straight, came calling on District 5 champ Leesburg. King is a bit of a surprise. When the first set of FHSAA ranking came out, King was on the outside looking in at one of the top eight spots for the playoffs in the region. Since then, the Lions have been playing their best basketball. Included in those eight consecutive victories is a district title over what would have been the region’s one seed, Tampa Jesuit, had they won the title. Still, as hot as King has been, it is a tough ask to go on the road, especially a place like Leesburg, and win to advance one more step closer to Lakeland.
For the first half of the first quarter, it looked like Leesburg was going to make short work of the Lions. Kanye Grimes hit two free throws and scored on a drive, Kameron James drilled a three, Charles Hill scored inside and Clifton Johnson scored on a drive. That made the score 11-0 in favor of the homestanding Yellow Jackets. Once King was finally able to get on the board with a put back from John Ziegler, the Lions were able to keep pace for the rest of the period. Still after one quarter of play, Leesburg was up “comfortably” by eleven, 18-7.
The adjustments King made to start to the second quarter worked like a charm. The Lions put together a 6-0 run to get to within 18-13 in the first two-plus minutes, forcing a Yellow Jacket timeout. Leesburg would maintain a five to seven point lead for much of the rest of the period until a slam inside by Kings’ Domanic Betancourt got the Lions to within four just before the break to make the score 28-24.
King continue to creep closer to Leesburg in the third quarter. Finally, with about five minutes to go in the period, Ziegler grabbed a rebound, pushed it the full length of the floor, and scored to give King its first lead of the game at 33-32. A bit later, Leesburg grabbed the lead back at 38-37. It didn’t last long as King hit a three. Leesburg tied the game at 40-40 after a drive and score by Johnson. Each team would score a single two-point basket the rest of the period and after three quarters of play the score was tied at 42-42.
James scored to give Leesburg the lead early in the fourth but Tony Livingston answered for King. With four minutes left in the game, the score was tied at 44-44. A bit later, Ziegler of King hit a three. Leesburg would draw within one after a putback from James but Livingston again gave King a three point lead. After Ziegler made a pair of free throws and Leesburg missed at their end, time was becoming a factor. Leesburg now had to foul to stop the clock and get the ball back. King responded by making their free throws. Leesburg attacked the basket to draw fouls and stop the clock instead of trying to get back into the game by launching three-point shots. This might have worked except Leesburg missed six straight foul shots. King eventually pulled away at the foul line to win by eight 59-51.
Only four players scored for Leesburg and all had double-figures. James led the way with 17 points while both Gaines and Hill added 12 points each and Johnson finished with 10 points.
Ziegler led King with 25 points. The 6’1 junior left his imprint all over the game, especially in crunch time. Call him “tough”, “warrior”, or whatever, he made big shots, grabbed important rebounds and connected on clutch free throw to lead the team. He scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half as King was taking control of the game. Each of his made three-pointers gave King a lead and he connected on six straight free throws to extend the Lions’ lead in the waning moments of the game.
Livingston was close behind with 24 points. The University of Florida football signee (plans to play both sports for the Gators) is a double-double machine and arguably the top candidate for Mr. Basketball in Class 5A. The 6’7 forward has dropped a BUNCH of weight on the past year and it has markedly improved his agility and quickness out on the floor. He has range on his shot, enough handle to weave thru a crowd and a soft touch around the basket. Livingston is also a solid passer and quick to advance the ball up the floor in transition