When this year’s Florida High School Athletic Association girls and boys state basketball tournaments started in early February, six high school teams from the western communities were in their respective fields: the girls and boys from the King’s Academy (Class 3A), the boys from Wellington High School (Class 7A), the girls from Palm Beach Central High School (Class 7A), the girls from Berean Christian School (Class 2A) and the girls at Seminole Ridge High School (Class 6A).
Of those six squads, both TKA teams had the deepest postseason runs.
The TKA girls soccer team, the No. 2 seed in Class 3A, Region 2, began regional play with the goal of a return trip to the state finals at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, scheduled for Feb. 22-25.
In this year’s regional quarterfinal on Thursday, Feb. 9, TKA dominated Edgewood High School of Merritt Island, 58-14. On Tuesday, Feb. 14, TKA hosted third-seeded Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy of Melbourne in the regional semifinal and notched another win, 50-37.
That victory put TKA into the Class 3A regional final on Friday, Feb. 17 against the top-seeded Seffner Christian Academy. At stake was a spot in the Class 3A state finals in Lakeland. The game was close in the first half, but a decisive third quarter allowed the Lions to build a big lead and eventually defeat Seffner, 60-50.
TKA came out strong and built a 10-point halftime lead, 35-25. After an exceptionally strong third quarter, the Lions led by 17 points, 48-31. The Crusaders didn’t give up and were able to outscore TKA in the fourth quarter by seven points, but it was too little, too late, and TKA advanced to the Class 3A final four for the second-straight year.
“The game at Seffner Christian was a huge statement win for our program,” TKA head coach Chris Race said. “Seffner has been ranked just ahead of us all season. They are a very talented and very well-coached team. It helps our girls’ confidence to travel across the state and go into an opposing gym to win that type of game. Hopefully, we can do the same thing two more times this season.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 22 at noon, TKA (23-4) played Sarasota’s Cardinal Mooney (20-5) in the Class 3A state semifinal. It was a rematch of last year’s state semifinal, when Cardinal Mooney defeated TKA, 50-42.
“We are playing Cardinal Mooney in a rematch of last year,” Race said. “Honestly, this is who our girls really have been wanting to play since last year. The girls have been laser-focused on getting back to this game. I think they are ready.”
Being able to play at your best on the RP Funding Center basketball court requires adjusting to the new surroundings.
“Part of what is really difficult about playing in the RP Funding Center is that you don’t get to practice in there,” Race said. “You literally get a 15-minute warm up. I think the teams that have been in there before have an advantage over a team that hasn’t.”
While in Lakeland, TKA will be practicing at Southeastern University. They entered the game against Cardinal Mooney riding a 13-game winning streak, while Cardinal Mooney had won its last seven games.
Unfortunately, the TKA girls varsity basketball team lost that game, 52-39, to Cardinal Mooney, to end their season with a 23-5 record.
The TKA boys basketball team is also having a memorable season. After defeating Cardinal Newman, 76-70, in its Class 3A, District 8 final on Friday, Feb. 10, the Lions earned the No. 3 seed in the Class 3A, Region 2 playoffs. TKA won its Region 2 quarterfinal on Thursday, Feb. 16, 81-70, against Santa Fe Catholic. That win propelled the Lions into the Region 2 semifinals on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at second-seeded Bell Creek Academy from Riverview. TKA (27-1) won that game, 66-64. With that victory, TKA advanced to the regional finals on Friday, Feb. 24 at Windermere Prep. That game starts at 7 p.m. The FHSAA’s Class 3A state finals for boys basketball will also be in Lakeland at the RP Funding Center, running from March 1 to March 4.
As for the other high school basketball teams in the western communities, after defeating Wellington in the Class 7A, District 8 tournament final, the Palm Beach Central High School girls varsity basketball team advanced into the field of the Class 7A state tournament as the No. 7 seed in Region 2. Their opening game on Thursday, Feb. 9 was against Orlando’s Oak Ridge High School (18-8), the No. 2 seed. It was a short-lived postseason, as the Broncos lost, 75-41, to finish with a 17-9 record.
After winning their third-straight district tournament title, the Berean Christian School girls varsity basketball team earned the No. 3 seed in the Class 2A, Region 3 tournament. Berean’s quarterfinal opponent on Thursday, Feb. 9 was the same team that Berean defeated in the district tournament final, Boca Raton Christian School. It was the fourth time the two teams had played one another this season.
After defeating Boca Raton Christian 55-29 in the district final, the Region 3 quarterfinal game was expected to be closer, and it was. Still, Berean defeated the Blazers, 54-43. That win vaulted the Bulldogs into a Region 3 semifinal at second-seeded Miami Christian. The two teams met in last year’s Class 2A, Region 4 final when Miami Christian overwhelmed Berean, 67-29. Miami Christian once again outscored the Bulldogs, 55-30. Berean finished its season with a record of 18-7.
While the Seminole Ridge High School girls varsity basketball team lost to Blanche Ely High School of Pompano Beach in the Class 6A, District 13 tournament finale, 69-44, the Hawks were still awarded an at-large bid as the No. 4 seed in the Class 6A, Region 4 bracket, based on their strong FHSAA Power Ranking.
In its regional quarterfinal on Thursday, Feb. 9, Seminole Ridge justified its seeding by defeating South Broward High School, the No. 5 seed, 42-26. With that victory, the Hawks earned a rematch against top-seeded Blanche Ely on Tuesday, Feb. 14 in the regional semifinal. Unfortunately, Seminole Ridge’s season came to an end against Blanche Ely, which prevailed 74-38. Seminole Ridge concluded its season with a 15-6 record.
The only other high school boys basketball team from the western communities to advance into the regionals was Wellington High School in Class 7A. After a crushing 73-71 loss to Lake Worth High School in the district tournament final on Friday, Feb. 10, Wellington earned the No. 6 seed in the Class 7A, Region 2 playoffs, based on its FHSAA Power Ranking. Wellington’s regional quarterfinal opponent was Oak Ridge High School from Orlando, the No. 3 seed. On Thursday, Feb. 16, Wellington traveled to Orlando to face the Oak Ridge Pioneers. Unfortunately, Oak Ridge prevailed, 58-54. Wellington finished its season with a record of 20-6.