LAKELAND — For the first nine minutes of Tuesday’s Class 4A state semifinal, Berkeley Prep dominated favored and No. 1-ranked Lake Highland Prep.
Then, as Berkeley Prep coach Bobby Reinhart explained it, “things went in a tailspin.”
Led by North Carolina-bound point guard Joel Berry, Lake Highland Prep defeated Berkeley Prep, 80-69, to advance to today’s championship. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, ended their season 27-4 and ranked No. 5 in the 4A state poll.
Berry, a two-time recipient of the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Basketball Award as the state’s top player, had a game-high 39 points and was 19-of-24 from the free throw line.
“He’s a McDonald’s All-American, so obviously it’s going to be tough, but you got to try to stay in front of him,” said sophomore Jacob Mathis, who led the Buccaneers with 21 points.
Berkeley Prep led 19-11 after the first quarter and 22-13 a minute into the second quarter when the Highlanders (27-4) went on a 14-5 run to tie it at 27. Berkeley last led, 31-29, with 2:04 left in the second quarter when the Highlanders went on another run, this time a 10-0 spurt for a 39-31 halftime lead.
“I thought we got uncharacteristically out of control on the offensive end in the second quarter,” Reinhart said. “We put up a lot of quick shots, and once you miss those, it enables them to get out in transition, which is one of their strengths.”
The Buccaneers trailed by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter, but they cut Lake Highland’s lead to 74-65 with 1:26 remaining on a three-point play by Craig Bowman.
“I don’t know what their final percentage was, but they were able to keep us at bay with the free throws,” Reinhart said. “I was very proud of the kids, because we didn’t quit.”
Berkeley Prep closed the deficit without its top scorer on the floor after senior forward Justin Gray fouled out in the middle of the fourth quarter with 16 points. Gray scored nine points in the first quarter, but foul trouble affected him in the second half.
Gray and senior guard Marshall Holmes (12 points) did not make an impact in a regular-season loss to Lake Highland Prep in December. Gray suffered concussion-like symptoms after a collision in the first quarter, and Holmes was out while recovering from a broken finger. The top two scorers for Berkeley, Gray and Holmes thought they would be the difference in Tuesday’s matchup.
Lake Highland Prep opened the third quarter on a 11-3 run, while Berkeley struggled in shooting 2-of-8 from the field.
“It’s the state semis, and everybody’s game steps up another notch,” Holmes said. “I think we just got a little out-hustled tonight.”