Archbishop Carroll’s boys’ basketball team boarded a bus bound for Lakeland for the second time in a year Tuesday morning.
The school’s faculty and student body saw them off with the usual pomp and circumstance of a pep rally.
But for the Bulldogs, it doesn’t feel the same as it did when they took their first trip to the state final four.
“If you look at the way they’ve reacted after our big wins this year and the way they’ve prepared for big playoff games, you’d think they’re getting ready for a Thanksgiving Classic game or an early season game,” Archbishop Carroll coach Juan Hernandez said. “They’ve gone about everything this year with a very business-like demeanor. They’ve had a different mind-set.”
Carroll was dispatched convincingly from last year’s state tournament in a loss to eventual state champion Windermere Prep.
This year’s Class 4A bracket appears to be as tough as it was last season as the Bulldogs will take on three-time state champion Jacksonville Providence at 10 a.m. Wednesday in one semifinal. That will be followed by a noon clash between Seffner Christian and defending state runner-up Westminster Academy.
But Carroll, which only graduated two starters from last year’s team and doesn’t have a player taller than 6-4, arrived in Lakeland riding a 19-game winning streak and eager to prove it can compete with the state’s elite.
Carroll, ranked No. 4 in Class 4A by the FABC/Source Hoops poll, only lost to Class 5A state semifinalist Calvary Christian and Mater Academy, and beat several playoff teams including Hallandale, Miami Country Day and Florida Christian.
Christian Silva, a 6-3 senior guard, has once again led Carroll, averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Silva has offers from Army, American and Bowling Green.
Hernandez also credits the experience on both the offensive and defensive ends of senior guards Carlos Villamil and Daniel Cordero for a lot of their success.
The Bulldogs must find a way to contend with Providence 6-1 senior point guard Zackery Bryant, a UAB signee who is averaging 20 points and six assists per game.
“We’re not the flashy YouTube-highlight-type team, but we are a group of talented kids that work hard,” Hernandez said. “To earn a chance to play for a state title would be great for them and our school.”
A year after coming up painfully short in the state finals, Westminster Academy returns one of the most talented teams in the tournament.
The core of 6-4 junior guard Zachary Scott, 6-10 senior center Paul Atkinson (Yale commit), 6-8 senior forward Jason Strong (Northeastern) and sophomore guard Chase Johnston have the Lions back in position to vie for their first state title since 2002.
Scott, who is averaging 18.6 points, 6.9 assists and five rebounds per game, has offers from FSU, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Florida Gulf Coast and DePaul.
The Lions’ semifinal foe, Seffner Christian, upset the top-ranked team in the classification, Orlando First Academy, last week to reach Lakeland.
State boys’ basketball finals
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per day; Parking: $10.
Tuesday’s results — Class 1A semifinals: Greensboro West Gadsden 55, Hawthorne 38; Wildwood 69, Graceville 62 (OT); Class 2A semifinals: Miami Christian 86, Jacksonville Temple Christian 53; Melbourne Florida Prep 69, Jacksonville North Florida Educational 41; Class 3A semifinals: Deltona Trinity Christian 80, Hialeah Champagnat Catholic 71; Orlando Christian Prep 67, Fort Myers Southwest Florida Christian 49.
Wednesday’s schedule — Class 4A semifinals: Archbishop Carroll vs. Jacksonville Providence, 10 a.m.; Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy vs. Seffner Christian, noon; Class 5A semifinals: Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian vs. Marianna, 2; Villages vs. Tampa Catholic, 4; Class 1A final: West Gadsden vs. Wildwood, 6; Class 2A final: Miami Christian vs. Florida Prep, 8:30.
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: 8.
Saturday’s schedule — Class 5A final: 10 a.m.; Class 6A final: 12:30; Class 7A final: 3; Class 8A final: 5:30; Class 9A final: 8.