The Jackets are one game away from returning to the Lakeland Center for the state finals. This is the position the Bartow High School boy’s basketball team finds itself after a 77-39 dismantling of East Bay High School Tuesday night.
Prior to the game, the message in the locker room was short and sweet.
“We are from Polk County, we are used to this type of environment,” said Bartow Head Coach Terrence McGriff. He was referencing the rowdy crowd that could clearly be heard in the locker room prior to the game at East Bay High School.
“They are pretty quick, good defenders. They want to press and play fast. That’s what we face in Polk County all year,” continued McGriff.
“Be sharp mentally, have some poise and keep your mouth shut. Let’s just go play our game,” McGriff concluded.
When you have won well over 100 games, three district titles, two regional titles, and one state championship you tend to know what you are talking about. The pre-game speech was spot on as it would take a lot of patience when dealing with the referees in the first half.
Bartow started hot with Ricky Williams drilling a three-pointer, followed by Chris Perry for two. The quick 5-0 lead gave the appearance that the Jackets were ready to take East Bay out early. However, the whistles started blowing early and often against Bartow. Perry was called for a couple early fouls, sending him to the bench for the rest of the half.
The numerous fouls called were clearly affecting the Jackets as they could not get in to any rhythm. The game seemed to be stopped every 30 seconds.
Luckily for Bartow, East Bay couldn’t hit their free throws. They did however hang tough, cutting the Jacket lead to one, 13-12 early in the second quarter.
In typical Bartow style, they had an answer for every East Bay run. After a Derrick Brooks jumper, Williams dialed it up again from three point land stretching the lead back six points, 18-12.
Despite a huge disparity in the fouls called, and the fact that Perry had been on the bench in foul trouble most of the first half. The Jackets headed to the locker room with a 30-23.
Whatever chance East Bay had in the game disappeared quickly in the third quarter. Perry was back on the floor, opening the third with a basket inside. He was fouled on the play and able to make the charity shot. So the lead stood at 33-23 just seconds in to the second half. After an East Bay miss, Kerry Jones netted two for the Jackets, making the lead 12 points.
From there it was off to the races as Bartow end the quarter on a 20-9 run that gave them a commanding 55-32 lead.
The fourth didn’t get any better for the home team as they were outscored 22-7, giving BHS an impressive 77-39 win.
Williams led the Jackets with 17 points. BHS got 15 out of Perry after scoring just two in the first half. Bartow also got 10 points from Kerry Jones and nine apiece from Brooks and Karlos Odum.
The win raised the Jackets record to 26-3. They will play tonight at home against Oak Ridge High School (24-5) in the Class 7A Regional Final.
The game is expected to be a sellout, so Jacket fans should get there early. The game will tip at 7 p.m. with a trip to the State Finals on the line.