By Marty Pallman
Busy night for Alachua County boys basketball teams coming up on Thursday
The 2014 high school football season wasn’t a banner one for Alachua County schools. Only one team, Gainesville, made it to the state football playoffs last season. The Purple Hurricanes finished 7-6 and lost in the Class 6A regional finals 56-0 to Seffner Armwood.
But the county has more than made up for it in boys basketball. Seven teams will begin their road to the Lakeland Center and the FHSAA Boys Basketball Finals on Thursday night, with two more schools in action on Tuesday night (1A schools Hawthorne & Newberry). In fact, Oak Hall is the only Alachua County school to not have advanced to the regional playoffs. There is at least one team in every class except 8A, while there are two teams, Santa Fe and P.K. Yonge, that will open up in regional quarterfinal games in Class 4A.
We will start in Class 7A, where Buchholz will host it’s first regional playoff game in many years against Apopka Wekiva. Buchholz hasn’t won a postseason game since advancing to the regional finals in 2009, where the Bobcats lost to eventual state champion Winter Park and Austin Rivers. Buchholz (15-10) advanced to the regional playoffs in 2014, losing to Oviedo after advancing to the District 3-7A championship game as a #4 seed. This year Buchholz was the #1 seed in their district and knocked off Orange Park Fleming Island and Neptune Beach Fletcher on Fletcher’s homecourt to clinch the district title. Buchholz’s only senior Bryan Chalifoux, is the leading scorer for the Bobcats and is helped out by junior sharp-shooter Jonathan Horodyski and point guard Jalon Perry. In the district championship game against Fletcher, Chalifoux was ejected in the first half with two technicals, and Horodyski stepped in with 18 second half points, including four three-point shots. Horodyski is the son of long-time Buchholz head coach Bob Horodyski, who has Buchholz back in the state playoffs after some struggles in the last five seasons.
Gainesville (24-3) has rolled through the regular season with their only losses coming to a Georgia team, Cedar Grove, Buchholz by one point and 6A power Lake Wales by three points. The Purple Hurricanes rolled through Orange Park 52-36 and Orange Park Oakleaf 62-35 to easily win the District 2-6A tourney at the Purple Palace last weekend. Gainesville is the last Alachua County school to win a state boys basketball title back in Kelly Beckham’s first season of 2009, and advanced to the state semifinals in 2013, losing to eventual Class 6A state champion Miami Norland at the Lakeland Center. Gainesville will open up in the Region 1-6A quarterfinals at home Thursday vs. Pace. Senior Ike Smith is the leading scorer and leader of this GHS team, but junior point guard Rudy Bibb-Boyd and senior forward Ronte Oates make a formidable threesome that Beckham can count on. Plus Beckham has nearly 600 wins in over 30 years of coaching at Bronson and Gainesville.
The Eastside Rams are hitting the road in Class 5A after losing a close game 63-56 at Lake Weir last Friday in the District 5-5A championship game. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Rams (14-13), who had to play most of the season without two of their best players. Darius Norman injured his knee in the first game of the season and missed the entire year, and Ed Porter injured both of his shoulders and played in only five games. Eastside was the last Alachua County boys basketball team to make it to Lakeland, losing in the 5A semifinals to St. Petersburg Lakewood 60-46 a year ago. The Rams also won a state title under long-time coach Herman “Pop” Williams in 2006. Eastside’s road to Lakeland this season begins at Dunnellon on Thursday night.
There are two Alachua County teams representing Class 4A. After a one-year hiatus, P.K. Yonge is back in the state playoffs in the second season under coach Billy Blackmon. The Blue Wave (19-9) were the #2 seed in the regular season in District 5-4A, but knocked off Santa Fe in an exciting district tournament championship game 63-62 in overtime on the Raiders home court last Saturday. P.K. Yonge last advanced to Lakeland back in 2008, where the Blue Wave lost in the 2A state championship to Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest and Brandon Knight. P.K. Yonge won it’s only state title in boys basketball in 1991. This Blue Wave team is balanced, with four players scoring more than eight points a game led by junior Jarvis Roberts, who averages 10.7 a game. P.K. Yonge opens up in Region 2-4A quarterfinals Thursday night at home against New Port Richey Ridgewood. This game will air on The Prep Zone with myself, Marty Pallman and Tyler TenBieg calling the action beginning with the Mark McGriff State Farm of Insurance of Gainesville pregame show beginning at 6:45. Tipoff is at 7.
Santa Fe is back on the road again in the 4A playoffs, which was a positive thing for the Raiders in 2014. Santa Fe won at The Villages and Fort White a year ago before succumbing in regional finals to eventual state champion Orlando Lake Highland Prep and Mr. Basketball Joel Berry, who is now at North Carolina. With Santa Fe losing the district championship game by one point in overtime to P.K. Yonge, Elliot Harris’s team will travel Thursday night to Ocala to play the Trinity Catholic Celtics in another Region 2-4A quarterfinal. Santa Fe has been up and down during the regular season but seems to always play better when the playoffs come around.
In Class 3A, the St. Francis Wolves are back in the state playoffs for the third time in four years. Unfortunately, losing to St. Augustine St. Joseph in the District 3-3A championship game means the Wolves (19-8) will have to travel to Jacksonville Providence in the Region 1 quarterfinals on Thursday night. Yes that Jacksonville Providence of Patric Young, Stacey Poole, Jr., Will Cummings and Grayson Allen, who led the Stallions to a state title in 2013 and undefeated regular season in 2014 before a loss in the state semifinals to Weston Sagemont. Allen is now playing for Coach K and Duke. It’s a tough test for Coach Brian Shea and his St. Francis team, but kudos to the Wolves for getting back to the state playoffs after missing out in 2014. St. Francis won back-to-back district titles in 2012 and 2013 and the Wolves first regional playoff victory in 2013.
Alachua County’s representative in Class 2A is a school that doesn’t get much publicity. The Cornerstone Academy Cougars advanced to the FHSAA state playoffs for the first time in school history by beating Ocala St. John Lutheran 48-36 in the District 3-2A semifinals last week. The Cougars fell to Ocala Meadowbrook Academy 59-52 in the championship game, but the earlier win qualified Cornerstone Academy for their first regional playoff game Thursday night. The Cougars will travel to Orlando Agape Christian in a Region 1-2A quarterfinal matchup. Congratulations to Cornerstone Academy on this achievement.
The 1A playoffs don’t being until next Tuesday, February 17 with the regional semifinal round. The Hawthorne Hornets (25-2) are once again considered a favorite to advance to Lakeland after back-to-back final four appearances in 2012 and 2013, including a state runner-up finish under Coach Greg Bowie in 2012. Hawthorne opens up their road to Lakeland this season at home against Lafayette next Tuesday in a Region 3-1A regional semifinal game. The Hornets rolled through the District 6-1A tourney to clinch another home regional playoff game. Hawthorne lost at Hamilton County in the regional finals a year ago.
The final team representing Alachua County is the Newberry Panthers in 1A. In his first season at Newberry, Coach Edward Johnson has the Panthers in the state playoffs for the first time since 2010. Newberry (15-10) finished the regular season as the #1 seed in District 7-1A, and defeated Union County in the district tournament semifinals before losing 78-53 to Williston on the Red Devils home court in the championship game. The Williston loss sends Newberry on the road to Crescent City for the 1A regional semifinals next Tuesday, February 17. Newberry has three players in double figure scoring, led by senior Dejwon Howard averaging nearly 16 points a game. Junior Malik Neal and sophomore Cory Durden both average over 10 points as well.
So those are just the Alachua County teams that are hoping to make it to the Lakeland Center and the FHSAA Boys Basketball Championships on Feb. 24-28. With all the teams in Jacksonville, Ocala, Daytona, and the surrounding North Central Florida areas still playing, there could be a large contingent making the trip two and a half hours south at the end of this month.
Meanwhile, the girls basketball state playoffs continue on Friday night.
The most successful girls basketball program in Alachua County is P.K. Yonge, and the Blue Wave will host Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the Region 2-4A final on Friday night with a trip to Lakeland and the 4A state semifinals on the line. P. K. Yonge rallied to win at Bushnell South Sumter 64-53 on Tuesday night in the regional semifinals to advance to the regional final, where the Blue Wave lost to Orlando Jones at home a year ago. Lake Highland Prep, the #1 team in 4A, knocked off Jones to advance this round. A win would send P.K. Yonge to the state semifinals for the 15th time in school history, and the Blue Wave have four state titles, including two championships under current coach Willie Powers in 2010 and 2012. You can hear the Region 2-4A final between P.K. Yonge and Lake Highland Prep here on The Prep Zone beginning with the Mark McGriff State Farm Insurance of Gainesville pregame show beginning at 6:45. Join myself and Tyler TenBieg for all the action. Tipoff will be at 7.