Westminster Academy looked like a defending champion.
Top-ranked Westminster started fast and put away third-ranked Sports Leadership & Management early in an FHSAA Class 4A state semifinal on Wednesday at the RP Funding Center with 76-64 win.
Westminster will meet Oviedo Master’s Academy for the 4A state championship at 2 p.m. Thursday. Oviedo advanced into the title game after holding off Gainesville P.K. Yonge 52-48 in an earlier semifinal.
“Masters is a great team,” said Westminster coach Ehren Wallhoff, now in his 15th season with the program. “Obviously, they have a couple of really good kids on that team. We are going to go with the same approach. We are going to do the best we can do and hope that is enough.
“We have been able to get some stuff on [Masters] and watched them today. They have a good team and I think it is going to be a great game.”
No. 1-ranked Westminster is making its third consecutive trip to the state final game and will now seek back-to-back 4A state titles. It won the 4A state championship this past season and was the 3A runner-up in 2016.
Westminster (22-6) has played seven nationally ranked teams this season, including Montverde and Shadow Mountain from Phoenix, Arizona, and Wallhoff said the tough schedule led to another title shot.
“Being in some of those games and being able to beat some of those guys has helped us down the stretch, especially against good teams,” Wallhoff said. “I like our guys. We are battled tested.”
Westminster outscored third-ranked SLAM 18-4 in the first quarter and was able to take a 34-24 halftime lead.
“I thought we came out and got some things done defensively. Dudley (Blackwell) got on the boards early, dominated the defensive boards. We got a little rust off being off for a week. I think this time of the year, it gets a little tougher. It was fun to get back on the court,” Wallhoff said.
Blackwell, a sophomore forward, posted a triple-double, scoring 12 points with12 assists while snatching 14 rebounds, all off the defensive glass. He also had three steals and one hard-hitting blocked shot.
“It just comes naturally,” said Blackwell, who lead the team in blocks this year and recorded nine in the regional final. “I think it is very important because it opens up a lot of large stuff both offensively and defensively for my teammates.”
SLAM (29-3) was led by junior guard Issad Solano with 28 points and 15 rebounds. Sophomore guard Kentron Poitier added 13 points and 17 rebounds — 11 off the defensive glass — and five blocked shots.
“Coming in, I think we matched up pretty well with them, at least body for body, player for player. We had a good matchup as far as who could guard who,” SLAM head coach Thomas Rogue said.
“They have been here three times in a row so I think experience kind of kicks in compared to our guys. It was their first time being here and the first quarter kind of showed that.”