Sometimes there is just that one team that you can see lurking on the horizon. That team for the Bartow boy’s basketball team was the Blanche Ely Tigers who were the defending state champions in Class 7A.
The way the FHSAA brackets set up, if both teams kept winning, they would meet in the State Semi-Finals at the Lakeland Center.
They both took care of business, winning their districts and winning their respective Regionals.
So last Friday afternoon, number one in Class 7A Blanche Ely was there to take on the second-ranked team, Bartow, with the winner moving to the State Championship game on Saturday.
With a large Bartow crowd filling the Lakeland Center, the Jackets built a quick 7-2 lead early in the first quarter. Then the unrelenting defensive pressure by Blanche Ely began to affect Bartow and the turnovers started. Bartow was however able to make some shots and the game was tied after one quarter, 14-14.
The second quarter began with a Tiger three pointer and Blanche Ely never looked back. At the half the Tigers led 35-23 and won the game 71-52.
It just wasn’t Bartow’s night. There were too many missed shots, costly turnovers and numerous easy transition baskets given up to Blanche Ely. If it could go wrong for Bartow, it did. At the end of the day, you couldn’t help but step back and be very proud of this Yellow Jacket team. They ended the season with a 27-4 record that included a district title and a regional title.
“We fell short of our ultimate goal this season but this group came a long way and played their guts out to represent the school and community in a first class way,” said Jackets Head Coach Terrence McGriff.
“This was a senior class who saved their best basketball for this season. They matured and grew up this year. They are the 10th Bartow team to advance to the final four for our school. What an accomplishment. They gave our fans and community something to cheer, unite for and be proud of. I can’t ask anymore than that from these kids,” McGriff continued.
Coach McGriff had a very heartfelt message when closing the book on the 2012-13 season, “A special thank you to the best student body, school, and community in the state of Florida. We could not have gotten here without all of you.”
The very humble McGriff also deserves a ton of credit for reviving the storied program over the last decade. He has guided the Jackets to three Final Fours (one State Championship) in the last five years. It doesn’t change the fact that Bartow didn’t win it all, but years from now this run will mean something. The members of this year’s team were Derrick Brooks, Kerry Jones, Ricky Williams, Tony Bradley, Dwayne Daughtry, Vontarius West, Karlos Odum, Quincy Childs, Michael Walker, Roy’quies Graham, Christopher Perry and Darius Jackson.
OTHER NEWS: At Monday’s Bartow City Commission meeting commissioners expressed how impressed they were with the boys basketball team and want to present it with a proclamation on its success this year and the fact they’ve been in the Final Four in two of the last three years.
Commissioner James Clements, who attended Friday’s game, said despite the fact the team was outplayed, they showed determination and dedication.
“They had a great season and I’d like them to come to the next meeting,” Clements said.
Mayor Leo Longworth whole-heartedly agreed with that idea.
“We’d like to give them a token of our gratitude,” he said.
Longworth also said credit should be given to the Coach McGriff, who not only emphasizes basketball to the students but also how to be successful in school.
“They’re good young men and they get good grades,” he said.
To which Commissioner A.J. Jackson added, “This says something about Coach McGriff’s leadership.”