Miami Norland the final hurdle for Pine Forest

Miami Norland the final hurdle for Pine Forest

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Miami Norland the final hurdle for Pine Forest

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LAKELAND

The time for talk is over.

The Pine Forest boys basketball team has spoken all season about playing for the Class 6A state championship.

Three months and 30 wins later, the Eagles’ preseason goal is one win away.

No. 2 Pine Forest (30-1) takes on No. 1 Miami Norland (25-5) at 12:30 p.m. today at The Lakeland Center for the Class 6A state title.

“It’ll set in if we’re fortunate enough to win,” Pine Forest coach Brad Grant said. “Then I’ll start thinking about that.

“It’s not time to start thinking about the end result. It’s time to think about the work that we need to do to get to that result.”

The Eagles make no bones about it, they face a big hurdle today as they make the program’s first appearance in the title game. Norland is the defending Class 6A state champion and perfect in three state final appearances (2006, ’08, ’12).

Norland has beaten its four playoff opponents this season by an average of nearly 20 points per game. In Thursday’s semifinal win over Gainesville, the Vikings outscored the Purple Hurricanes 22-5 in the fourth quarter for the 73-50 victory.

“It’s nice to be in this situation we’re in right now, but we’ve got one more game and we’ve got the defending state champs,” Grant said. “We have to go out there and play hard, even turn it up another notch.”

That hasn’t been a problem for the Eagles this season. Pine Forest’s only loss was to District 1-6A rival Milton in early January, and that only served to wake up the team, which had been beating opponents by an average of 18 points per game at the time.

The Eagles bounced back from that loss with a 54-36 win over Escambia to begin what is a 16-game winning streak heading into today’s matchup.

“We’re confident, playing well as a team right now,” senior guard Ladamian Robbins said. “We know that everyone can step up, because we have all season. We’ve been playing for this the whole year, now we just gotta go get it done.”

As has been the case this season, the Eagles got it done in the state semifinals by utilizing their depth. Eight of the 11 players which checked into Thursday’s win over Winter Haven scored for Pine Forest.

Charlie Wilson led the way with 13 points, while Shamar Johnson added 11 points. Two other players — Robbins and guard Reggie McKelvey — were within a bucket of reaching double figures.

“We’ve been doing that all year,” Grant said. “I’ll play 10 or 11 guys. You’ve seen us in games where nobody scores over six or seven points, and that’s in a 30-point win.

“I’m confident in anybody I go over there and tap on the shoulder and tell them to get in. I’m confident that they will go in there and do their job.”

The challenge today will be to contend with a Norland team that’s every bit as tall as the Eagles. The Vikings’ front line of Dewan Huell and Tyrell Williams are 6-foot-9 and 6-8, respectively.

The Vikings also come off the bench with 6-7 forward Jovany Deceus, 6-6 forward Maljhum McCrea and 6-6 forward Maurice McDaniel.

Norland also boasts some size in the backcourt with junior guard Zachary Johnson (6-2) and senior guard Dalvin Roberts (6-3).

“We saw that they’re pretty nice-sized, the same as us,” Pine Forest senior forward Shamar Johnson said. “They run the ball pretty good.

“If we come out there and just play defense and stop all that, just do our thing, I believe we can come out with a win.”

Belief and confidence may go a long way today, especially as Pine Forest takes on a Norland team familiar with the atmosphere of the state championship. Despite the lack of experience in a game of this magnitude, Grant believes his Eagles will answer the bell.

“I’m confident in this bunch, very confident,” Grant said. “They are here to do a job. That’s how we look at it, and have been looking at it.

“It’s our business trip. And if we don’t take care of our business, we’re going to the house empty-handed.”

The Eagles sat and watched Norland’s win over Gainesville on Thursday in the other state semifinal game. Grant said it was more of an opportunity for his players to soak in the environment, because ultimately, Pine Forest will play its style of game.

“You get here, you don’t want to change what you do,” Grant said. “We just want to play like we did all year and play our game.

“Our pressure, that’s what we cause a lot of turnovers off of. Even when it’s not working, we will stay with it, because it’s just what we do.”

So far, it’s worked, as Pine Forest is holding opponents to only 42 points per game this season. On the flip side, the Vikings enter the game averaging 71.5 points per game, making today’s game a struggle of wills.

“We’ve worked very hard to get to this point, so we can’t be satisfied yet,” senior forward Charlie Wilson said. “We’re happy to be playing for a state title and to be making history.

“But we want to win it all. That was our goal the whole offseason. Now we’re just one win away.”

Follow Brady Aymond on Twitter at BAymondPNJ@twitter.com and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/Brady AymondPNJ.

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