ThePrepZone.com Sports Report with Mike Ridaught on “The Tailgate” (WRUF Gainesville)

Mike Ridaught joined Jeff Cardozo & Pat Dooley on The Tailgate (WRUF-98.1 FM & 850 AM) on Thursday, January 9, for ThePrepZone.com Sports Report presented by SunState Federal Credit Union. Here is a recap of the interview:

There are some new changes made by the Florida High School Athletic Association that affect both girls and boys basketball this year. What changes have been made?

One of the FHSAA changes for basketball this year is a reduction in the number of classifications.  Last year there were nine classifications but this year there are eight.  Class 9A had been in use since the 2016-17 season. But the biggest change has to do with the districts. The FHSAA will use the MaxPreps computer rankings to determine seeding for regional tournaments and state championships. It has changed the way coaches and teams approach each game, particularly early season contests. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword because, in my opinion, you don’t have a true regular season district champion. And the reason that you don’t have a true regular season district champion is that you aren’t required to play your district opponents.

Let me give you an example in boys basketball. Gainesville High School, which dropped from Class 7A down to Class 6A this year, is in a 6-team district with Buchholz, Columbia (Lake City), and three Tallahassee schools – Leon, Chiles, & Lincoln. In the past, you typically play your district opponents twice in the season – once at home and once on the road. GHS does play Buchholz twice, which makes sense since they are also city rivals, but they only play Columbia once and they don’t play Chiles or Lincoln at all. Now, there’s still a district tournament at the end of the year, but those seedings will be based on a ratings system and not your district record.

It’s even worse for the P.K. Yonge girls, who are in the same district, 3A-District 3, with Father Lopez (Daytona Beach), which is actually really good this year, Oak Hall (Gainesville), St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine), Interlachen and Trinity Catholic (Ocala). Of those five other teams in their district, the Lady Blue Wave only play a total of ONE district game all season long! Now, the positive side of this, is that by not having to play much of a district schedule, it allows you play against tough competition to a.) get you ready for the postseason if you can make it there and b.) give you a chance to have a tough strength of schedule which you need now based on the MaxPreps ratings. In a given region, four district champions, who are the winners of each district tournament, will advance, and four at-large teams. It’s similar to the NCAA Tournament in that you want your higher seeded teams to win the district tournament so it doesn’t steal a postseason bid.

Girls Basketball Recap

We’re less than four weeks away from the girls basketball postseason. The girls district tournaments are Feb. 3rd through the 7th. The boys are the week after that.  I’d have to say if we ranked them right now, the top girls teams in the Gainesville area are Hawthorne, P.K. Yonge, and Trenton, and maybe Oak Hall. Trenton and Oak Hall play each other twice this month so we’ll find out if that order needs to change, but Trenton is the defending 1A state champion so I’ll put them third for now. Last year’s team went 27-3 & won their last 13 games of the season to win their 3rd state title overall but their first since 1980. They lost some girls from that state championship team – but they have a chance to get back to Lakeland. Trenton played at P.K. Yonge last Friday and lost by double digits but P.K. Yonge is a bigger school. In fact, all three of the Lady Tigers’ losses have come against bigger competition and they’re dominating their district so I expect them to make a bit of a run.

But the team I have ahead of them right now is Hawthorne, which is coached by Cornelius Ingram. They were in the 1A Final Four last year. The Lady Hornets are 14-1 and they’ve been crushing everyone. They beat Williston on the road last night by 35 points. Their closest margin of victory has been five points but that was to Oakleaf (Orange Park) which is a Class 7A school with a winning record.

P.K. Yonge made the Class 4A Final Four and lost to the #1 team in the country in the state semifinals last year. The problem with Willie Powers’ team this year is that they’ve been battling injuries. Junior Mya McGraw, who is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game was out the first six weeks of the season with a broken foot. They’ve also been playing with a 6th-grader (Ashlyn Young) in the starting lineup. Their 9-7 record is a little deceiving because they’ve played in tournaments in Mississippi and Alabama, they’ve lost to Raines (Jacksonville), who we have No. 1 in our all-classification regional rankings, and they’ve played other bigger schools like Vanguard (Ocala), West Port (Ocala), and Leon (Tallahassee).

Boys Basketball Recap

There seems to be a lot of parity when it comes to boys basketball in the area. Overall, I feel like it’s down a bit. I’d put Gainesville No. 1 amongst Gainesville area teams but Hawthorne is a very close second. The Hurricanes have a 2-point win against P.K. Yonge. They’ve also beaten Santa Fe convincingly. But that’s the only teams they’ve played in the area except for Columbia, who they lost to in overtime, 75-73, on Tuesday night. GHS was playing its 11th road game of the season. That’s 11 out of their first 13 away from home and they are 9-4 overall. In that game on Tuesday night, GHS came back from a 9-point 3rd quarter deficit and with 11 seconds left in regulation, the Hurricanes took their first lead since early in the second period on a 3-pointer by Rod Williams for a 60-59 lead.  Columbia hit a shot at the buzzer and won it in overtime. The Tigers are having a really nice year. They are 12-2 overall.

But as I noted earlier that’s the only district meeting between the two teams this year and it’s certainly possible that those teams could meet in the district tournament with a postseason berth on the line. Gainesville was led by sophomore forward Daryus Boyd in that game with a game-high 24 points. That matched his career high of 24 points which he set last Friday in a 72-60 victory at Tallahassee Leon.  Williams had 19 against Columbia and Alex Mccray finished with 11. Tonight, GHS is at home against Leesburg, which won back-to-back Class 6A state titles in 2017 & 2018. GHS lost at Leesburg by 9 on December the 17th so this will be a good test for the Hurricanes, who also play at Buchholz tomorrow night on local radio (92.1 FM & 1230 AM in Gainesville)

Hawthorne is rolling. They’ve won 11 in a row and the Hornets are 13-1 overall. Their only loss was to Class 5A Crystal River at the Mighty Ike Tournament at Williston in November. They get a good test at home against P.K. Yonge tomorrow night. The Blue Wave are just 8-5 overall but two of their losses were to Lakeland and Evans (Orlando) at the Hitchcock’s Challenge and they have wins against Eastside and Buchholz, and they only lost by two to Gainesville. I feel like the third best team in the area behind Gainesville and Hawthorne might be Santa Fe. Their record is just 8-7 but they’ve played at Columbia, lost in overtime to The Villages, and have recently won five of their last six.

Eastside is still learning to play without Anthony Richardson since he enrolled early at UF, but KJ Bradley was one of the top players in the area last year and Trinity Catholic transfer Ike Gainey gives them a nice 1-2 punch. Plus, Pop Williams has been coaching there for 24 years so I think he’ll find a way to get them back in the postseason. They’re 7-5 so the records aren’t great in the area, but since these teams don’t really have to play district games those records can be a little deceiving.

**Tune in to our weekly radio interviews talking high school sports on ThePrepZone.com Sports Report presented by SunState Federal Credit Union on WRUF-98.1 FM & 850 AM in Gainesville every Thursday at 4 p.m. on “The Tailgate” with Jeff Cardozo & Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley.**

If you live in the Tri-County area (Gilchrist, Levy & Dixie County), tune in to ThePrepZone.com Nature Coast Sports Report presented by SunState Federal Credit Union on Country Legends Radio. The 2-minute high school sports vignette is produced by Ridaught and airs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:28 a.m. and repeating at 5:28 p.m. on 93.1 FM & 940 AM in Chiefland/Trenton & 96.3 FM & 1240 AM in Cross City.