They’ve got the experience, skills, confidence and momentum.
The Pensacola High Tigers (28-3) are amidst head coach Terrence Harris’ winningest season during his seven-year tenure, and face their biggest task of the season tonight at 7 in the Region 1-6A FInals.
The Tigers play host to Gainesville High – the team that knocked the Tigers out of last year’s postseason race – facing the Purple Hurricanes for a third-straight year in the playoffs.
Last year’s meeting was closely played in three quarters, but Gainesville hopped out to a 21-5 lead after the first quarter and created a hole too deep for the Tigers to recover.
But the Tigers and Harris don’t see things going that way in Friday night’s game.
“I think we are a better match-up (for Gainesville) than we were last year,” Harris said. “The difference this year is that we’ve had several games this season where our start has been slow. We know that as the game goes on, things will get better and we will settle in. I think we’re better defensively and our guys believe in their ability to guard.”
As one of the final eight 6A teams in the state, the Tigers know to expect a battle in the third round of the playoffs.
“We’re playing at home, our guys have a lot of confidence and they believe they can win,” Harris said. “At this time of the year, every opponent you face is a good opponent. They have all faced good competition. (Against Gainesville) on our home court, in front of our fans … we believe we can win.”
Looking at the numbers, Friday’s regional final game has the makings of a great one as PHS (3) and Gainesville (4) combine for only seven losses throughout the season.
The Tigers finished district play undefeated, while the Purple Hurricanes suffered just one district loss.
PHS has averaged 79 points-per-game during the playoffs compared to 70.5 from Gainesville – which beat Vanguard 85-83 in overtime to advance.
“Gainesville is a composed team – they have length, size and a really good point guard,” Harris said. “They very well could be a bit bigger than us. (Gainesville) is well-coached and they are gonna have some discipline offensively.”
Region 1-6A finals
•Where: Pensacola High
•Who: Pensacola High Tigers vs. Gainesville High Hurricanes
•When: 7 p.m.
•Skinny: Winner advances to Lakeland for the Class 6A state semifinals.