Sometimes it just pays to be a little taller.
Westminster Academy reaped the benefits of having 6-10 senior center Paul Atkinson in the paint Wednesday afternoon during a 58-45 win over Seffner Christian that put them back in the state finals for the second consecutive season.
Atkinson, who is headed to Yale, nearly recorded a triple-double in the Class 4A state semifinal, scoring 20 points, collecting 11 rebounds and blocking seven shots.
“Our plan was to get it inside to Paul and we felt we had an advantage there,” Westminster Academy coach Ehren Wallhoff said. “Their guys were physical, but they’re not 6-10 or 6-9 so we felt our guards and Paul had an edge.”
The Lions (28-4) will take on Jacksonville Providence (25-5) on Friday night at 8 p.m. as they vie for their first state title since2002. Providence beat Archbishop Carroll in the other semifinal on Wednesday. Westminster defeated Providence by two points at home in their fourth game of the season.
“Our goal all year was to get back here and win it,” Wallhoff said. “The first game was a great battle like a heavyweight boxing match back and forth. They’re a great team and it’s going to be a great championship game.”
Atkinson found easy looks inside against Seffner Christian (24-7) and when he didn’t, he swung the ball out to guards Chase Johnston and Zachary Scott. Johnston hit three of those from long distance and finished with 15 points.
Freshman Dudley Blackwell was impressive with a game-high 10 assists as the Lions finished with 18 overall.
“Dudley has really grown as a player,” Wallhoff said. “Coming in as a freshman he’s been heralded a lot, but he’s done a great job handling that and finding his role and letting the game come to him. We figured we’d work the ball inside and outside and figured with Chase and [guard] Zach [Scott] would have opportunities to shoot.”
SC (24-7): Jorden 9, Noskey 2, Webster 11, Walker 12, Lue 9, Hopkins 2. WA (28-4): Strong 10, P. Atkinson 20, Scott 8, Johnston 15, Blackwell 5. Half: WA 25-22. Three-pointers: Johnston 3, Walker, Lue. Rebounds: P. Atkinson 11. Assists: Blackwell 10. Steals: Noskey 3. Blocks: P. Atkinson 7.
▪ Class 4A state semifinal – Jacksonville Providence 67, Archbishop Carroll 48: The Bulldogs (27-3) hadn’t crumbled against tall, athletic opponents all season.
But even after holding its own for a half, Providence’s dominance on the boards and versatile guard Zachery Butler proved too much as Carroll lost in the semifinals for the second year in a row.
Butler, a UAB signee, finished with a game-high 23 points and the Stallions controlled the paint for the majority of the game, out-rebounding Carroll 38-22.
“We just didn’t do a good job containing Butler and then it kind of got away from us,” Carroll coach Juan Hernandez said. “I thought we rushed some stuff, which I kind of figured would happen because these guys are warriors and every one of them wants to help their team win.”
Carroll played 12 teams that made it to the regional playoffs this season often with players taller than its roster which doesn’t have one taller than 6-4. But the disadvantage was evident during a first quarter in which the Bulldogs were out-rebounded 14-3.
Carroll adjusted in the second quarter and it reflected on the scoreboard as it was able to cut Providence’s lead to two points at halftime. But Butler opened the third with a pair of scores and the Stallions went on a 9-2 run that helped them open up a lead that grew to as many as 25 points.
Not helping matters for Carroll was senior and leading scorer Christian Silva picking up two fouls and being forced to sit out most of the first half. But in his absence, senior Daniel Cordero picked up most of the slack with 26 points.
The Bulldogs had a 19-game winning streak snapped Wednesday and graduate six seniors including its starting five that helped them make it to state two years in a row after having never made it before.
“These guys are my brothers,” Cordero said. “I’ll always remember everything we shared on and off the court.”
PRV (25-5): Freeman 7, Marion 8, Bryant 23, Beane 8, Archie 13, Erickson 7, Perez 1. AC (27-3): Gomez 8, Aarestrup 5, Cordero 26, Villamil 3, Silva 4, Barbic 2. Half: PRV 27-25. Three-pointers: Archie 3, Erickson, Cordero 4, Aarestrup. Rebounds: Freeman 10. Assists: Bryant 7. Steals: Marion 4. Blocks: Bryant 3.
State boys’ basketball finals
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per day; Parking: $10.
Wednesday’s results — Class 4A semifinals: Jacksonville Providence 67, Archbishop Carroll 48; Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy 58, Seffner Christian 45; Class 5A semifinals: Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian 39, Marianna 20; Tampa Catholic 92, Villages 67; Class 1A final: West Gadsden 64, Wildwood 44; Class 2A final: Miami Christian vs. Florida Prep, inc.
Thursday’s schedule — Class 6A semifinals: Jacksonville Ribault vs. Leesburg, 11 a.m.; Palatka vs. Cape Coral Mariner, 1; Class 7A semifinals: Fort Lauderdale Dillard vs. Ocala Vanguard, 3; Orlando Edgewater vs. Lehigh Acres Lehigh, 5; Class 3A final: Deltona Trinity Christian vs. Orlando Christian Prep, 7.
Friday’s schedule — Class 8A semifinals: Palm Beach Lakes vs. Tallahassee Lincoln, noon; Tampa Sickles vs. Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, 2; Class 9A semifinals: South Miami vs. Apopka Wekiva, 4; Kissimmee Osceola vs. Wellington, 6; Class 4A final: Providence vs. Westminster Academy, 8.
Saturday’s schedule — Class 5A final: Calvary Christian vs. Tampa Catholic, 10 a.m.; Class 6A final: 12:30; Class 7A final: 3; Class 8A final: 5:30; Class 9A final: 8.