When teams have kept games close long enough against Blanche Ely this season, the Tigers have often emphatically crushed their hopes.
Ely did that again Friday night.
The Tigers wore down another opponent with their skill, athleticism and defense to keep its undefeated season going with a 91-59 win over North Port in a Class 7A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
“I think we finally woke up at the end,” Blanche Ely coach Melvin Randall said. “We weren’t playing Tiger defense, but when we finally did it took a lot of the pressure off us.”
After North Port cut Blanche Ely’s lead to seven early in the fourth, the Tigers (27-0), ranked No. 6 nationally by USA Today, finished the game on a 28-3 run, and outscored the Bobcats 30-7 in the final period.
Ely will try to complete the first undefeated season by a Broward County public school when it plays Kissimmee Osceola on Saturday at 5:05 p.m. in the Class 7A state final. Weston Sagemont, a private school, went undefeated last season.
A state championship would make Blanche Ely a very likely candidate to be invited to the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Invitational in New York and in contention for a national championship.
Should the Tigers win the title, it would be the fifth in the school’s history and fourth with Melvin Randall as coach.
Randall, who also won two state titles during a prior coaching stint at Deerfield Beach, would have six state titles, giving him the most in Broward County history.
Randall and Miami Norland coach Lawton Williams III each have teams playing for championships Saturday and, if both win, would share the distinction of being the coaches with the most state titles in South Florida.
“I know we’re in the same situation as far as state titles are concerned since he has five and I have five,” Randall said. “I’m going to hope for the best for him.”
Senior point guard Laquincy Rideau led Ely with 16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals, and senior guard Javon Heastie finished with 20 points and five rebounds.
Senior forward Therrell Gosier Jr. triggered the late push, however, by scoring 19 of his 20 points in the second half. Although he didn’t attribute his slow start to it, Gosier may have been a bit hobbled early after he rolled his ankle during the pregame shootaround when he accidentally stepped on an assistant coach’s foot.
“Throughout the playoffs I’ve been trying to pick up my level of play,” Gosier, Jr. said. “[The ankle] didn’t really affect me. I knew my team needed me.”
Randall was asked postgame by a reporter if he could describe his team in a word.
His answer: “historic.”
The Tigers can make the end of its season just that with a win Saturday.
“This group has done a lot of things teams before them never did,” Randall said. “All that’s left now is to put the stamp on the envelope.”
Ely (27-0): Gosier, Jr. 20, Houston 9, Wilson 8, Heastie 20, Rideau 16, Anderson 9, Scott 3, Goodrum, Jr. 6. NP (22-8): Thomas 3, Barber 17, Deas 8, Sinopoli 20, Thatcher 5, Oliver 6. Half: Ely 43-29. Fouled out: Bruno, Sinopoli. Three-pointers: Sinopoli, Thatcher, Houston, Heastie 2, Rideau, Scott. Rebounds: Barber, Rideau 10. Assists: Rideau 7. Steals: Rideau 4. Blocks: Gosier, Jr. 2.
STATE BOYS’ BASKETBALL
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per session; Parking: $8.
Friday’s results – Class 5A semifinals: Tallahassee Rickards 65, Tarpon Springs 59; Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons 73, St. Petersburg Gibbs 38; Class 6A semifinals: Gainesville 83, Orlando Edgewater 71; Miami Norland 67, Tampa Jefferson 43; Class 7A semifinals: Blanche Ely 91, North Port 59; Kissimmee Osceola 67, Oviedo 55.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 5A final: Cardinal Gibbons vs. Tallahassee Rickards, 10:05 a.m.; Class 6A final: Norland vs. Gainesville 1:35; Class 7A final: Blanche Ely vs. Kissimmee Osceola, 5:05; Class 8A final: Oviedo Hagerty vs. Wellington, 8:35.