A banner in South Miami’s gym read: “This is our house... This is our time.”
Those words proved prophetic as the Cobras, backed by a packed and loud crowd, eliminated defending state champion Hialeah Gardens 48-42 in a Class 8A regional final at South Miami on Saturday night.
With the win, the Cobras (27-3) qualified for their first trip to the boys’ basketball state semifinals since 2004. South Miami will play Tampa Wharton (25-4) Friday night in Lakeland. Tip-off time will either be 7 or 8:30 p.m.
South Miami was led by 6-1 senior point guard Jorge Perez-Laham, who scored 14 points. His performance followed his 31-point game against Palmetto in the regional semifinals.
“He’s been getting better every game,” Cobras coach Robert Doctor said of Perez-Laham, who transferred from Puerto Rico to South Miami for his senior year. “He is a key to our team.”
Hialeah Gardens (23-6) was led by senior guard Adrian Gonzalez, whose stellar prep career ended with a game-high 16 points.
But for much of the game, it was more about who was missing than who was actually playing.
Gardens’ star center Alvaro Simoza, who missed virtually all of the regionals due to an ACL injury, was on the Gladiators’ bench – on crutches.
Meanwhile, South Miami’s star center, Antravious Simmons, was also missing in action for much of the game – but not due to injury.
The Virginia Commonwealth University recruit picked up his second foul with 2:30 left in the first quarter. He sat out the rest of the half and had no points – including four misses from the foul line – as the third quarter ended with the Cobras clinging to a 33-30 lead.
In fact, the only reason the Cobras led at all was that Perez-Laham hit a three-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer.
Simmons finally hit two free throws for his first points with just 5:35 left in the game. He added a put-back three minutes later to finish with four points.
“I didn’t have my best scoring game – in fact, it was my worst (of the season),” Simmons said. “But I’m happy because my team won.”
Simmons, even on an off-night, was still a major factor on defense with four blocked shots. An example of Simmons’ effect on the game came in the third quarter with South Miami up 23-21. Simmons blocked a shot, recovered the loose ball and fired it to a streaking Perez-Laham, who made the open layup.
“I love playing with him,” Simmons said of Perez-Laham. “He gets everybody involved.”
South Miami has never won a state title, although coach Fred Jones led the 2004 team to a second-place finish, and Charlie Funk did the same thing with the Cobras in 1996.
Doctor was an assistant coach on the 2004 Cobras, who were led by University of Miami recruit Brian Asbury.
“That was a great team,” Doctor said. “But I think this team is more complete, all-around.”
SM: Perez-Laham 14, Blanco 10, Simmons 4, Cratit 8, Bartley 4, Lopez 8. HG: Gonzalez 16, Sanchez 12, Huertas 2, Frias 2, Leonardo 10. Half: SM 21-16. Fouled out: Kurnick. Three-pointers: Sanchez 2; Perez-Laham 2, Blanco 2.
• Region 4-4A final — Ransom 64, University 44: For decades, Ransom Everglades School was perhaps best known for its tennis and water polo programs when it came to athletic success. On Saturday night, the boys’ basketball team decided it would step through the doors and make a little history of its own.