The Land O’ Lakes High varsity boys basketball team’s banner season — and hopeful bid for a state finals appearance — has come to a close.
After winning a district championship and then dismantling King High 62-35 in the regional quarterfinals, the Gators fell at home to Hillsborough High 52-36 in the Class 7A regional semifinals, on Feb. 26.
The defeat ends what was one of the best hoops seasons ever for Land O’ Lakes, who finish the 2018-2019 season with a 24-3 record and a 7-0 district mark, under longtime coach Dave Puhlaski.
Land O’ Lakes last surpassed the 20-win plateau during the 2011-2012 season — when they went 22-7 and also won a district crown.
The Gators entered the playoff contest against Hillsborough on a 16-game winning streak.
Their last defeat had come on Jan. 1, a 72-65 overtime loss to Wildwood Middle High in the Greg O’ Connell New Year’s Shootout tournament; the team’s other loss was against Wesley Chapel High 57-53, on Dec. 21.
But, the Terriers’ (27-2) size and experience proved too much for Land O’ Lakes, with a roster featuring nine seniors and six players 6-foot-5 or taller.
Land O’ Lakes shot 29 percent from the field and had just two players in double figures, as standout junior guards Chase Farmer and Mehki Perry scored 11 points apiece.
(Hillsborough went on to qualify for the state final four after beating Auburndale High 75-71 in the Class 7A regional final on March 1.)
Disappointing defeat aside, the Gators again figure to be one of the area’s top contenders next season.
The team expects to return its top four scorers, including Farmer (19.1 ppg) and Perry (14.1 ppg), and leading rebounder, 6-foot-5 post Brett Gwinn (6.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg).
Meantime, another local school hoping for a state finals appearance also saw its season come to an end.
The Freedom High boys basketball team fell to Wharton High 69-51 in the Class 8A regional semifinals, on Feb. 26.
The Patriots finished the season with a 25-4 record and 12-2 district mark.
Unlike Land O’ Lakes however, the Patriots may be in for some rebuilding next year, as the team loses nine seniors, including its top five scorers and rebounders.
2018-2019 Land O’ Lakes High varsity boys basketball
- Myron Bloom, senior
- Jerry Cribbs, freshman
- Levi Downing, junior
- Emmanuel Durojaiye, senior
- Chase Farmer, junior
- Brett Gwinn, junior
- Justin Knowles, senior
- Dayvion Luqman, junior
- Aleks Marczak, senior
- Jerry Peace, junior
- Mekhi Perry, junior
- Nate Santana, sophomore
- AJ Smith, junior
- Dave Puhlaski, Head coach, 30th year
Published March 06, 2019