With 10 lead changes and a dead-even battle for rebounds and steals, Pensacola High’s 56-54 loss to Largo in the 6A state semifinals at the Lakeland Center couldn’t have felt any closer.
Largo created the biggest lead of the game, scoring a bucket two seconds before halftime to put the Packers up six.
The Packers utilized a 2-3 zone to limit PHS penetration, yielding 24 attempts from beyond the 3-point line for the Tigers.
“We didn’t shoot the ball as well as we would have liked and that is a big part of how we play,” PHS coach Terrence Harris said. “I’m usually pretty good at running a game over and over in my head. I think this one was on us. We took a lot of good, uncontested shots but were unable to shoot as well as we would have liked.”
Javon Grimsley had the hot hand for PHS, finishing with 14 points (4-of-9 on 3-pointers).
Shawndarius Cowart and Davonchae Bryant each dropped 12, while Cowart dished out five assists and Bryant corralled eight boards.
But ultimately PHS’ three-point shooting percentage (.250, 6-of-24), paired with Largo’s 11 blocked shots seemed to make the difference.
Largo saw a strong mid-range shooting night for Dakari Allen, who finished with 24 points, hustled for eight rebounds and cashed in on 11-of-17 free throws.
“I thought both teams fought hard, just as you would expect in a state semifinal game,” Harris said. “One of the things that comes out in tough games is bad habits, they start creeping out. We had some uncharacteristic turnovers tonight, but all-in-all our guys fought hard.”
Point guard Amant Deliu was beyond clutch in the fourth quarter draining two 3-balls (3-of-8, from three-point range) inside the last three minutes.
The Packers advance to face Dillard – which knocked off defending 6A champ Miami Norland in the regional finals – Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (Pensacola time).
The trip marks Largo’s first appearance in the state finals in program history.
Next season, Pensacola High returns all nine players that saw playing time in Friday’s game.
“I think our guys learned a lot from this trip,” Harris said. “When you’re counting on sophomores and for the most part juniors, when those guys come back as juniors and seniors we will hold a lot more experience. By this time next year, we expect to be back. The way we play is not going to change. And this year’s experience will make a world of difference for us.”
For Cowart – a sophomore – and Grimsely – a junior – it seems next season can’t come soon enough.
“In the district championship game (vs. Pine Forest), we felt we were ready for the state tournament,” Grimsley said. “We’re coming out hard next year.”
Cowart kept it simple, but added to Grimsley’s statement.
“Way harder,” Cowart said.
•Who: Largo High vs. Dillard
•What: Class 6A state championship game
•When: 12:30 p.m. (local time)
•Where: Lakeland Center