TAMPA – Jesuit captured its fifth straight Class 5A District-9 title last Friday night in a three-point win over Robinson. Now, the Tigers will have to fend off a new face in the Lake Wales Highlanders on Wednesday night.
Despite losing 62-47 last week in the 5A District-10 championship to Sebring, Lake Wales (12-13) has battled all season long and isn’t likely to back down on the road. Led by senior point guard Tyler Antonucci (19 points in district title game), the Highlanders will be facing Jesuit for just the third time ever in the playoffs. The first meeting came back in 2012 when eventual 5A champion Lake Wales routed Jesuit 76-35 in the region final. That marked the second state title for Lake Wales.
For Jesuit (22-5), it’s a matter of getting the job done. In two playoff games, wins over Jefferson and Robinson, the Tigers are averaging 58 points per game shooting 53 percent from the field. On the season, they are averaging 56.4 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field.
Junior guard Stephen Darst has been the leader for this squad averaging 16 points per game. He has dropped 20 or more points in three of his last four games while adding a game-high 23 in the win over the Knights in the district championship. Darst is shooting 38 percent from the field.
The Tigers heart and soul is senior point guard D.J. Snyder. He’s averaging 8.6 points and 4.1 assists per game. Snyder has reached double digits in 12 games this season including each of the two district wins and comes up with clutch shots and rebounds down the stretch of games. He’s won a district title in each of his four seasons at Jesuit (13′, 14′, 15′, 16′).
29th-year head coach Neal Goldman helped the Tigers capture their third state title victory in 2013, but Jesuit hasn’t been able to get back to the state tournament over the last two seasons, losing to Gibbs in the region quarterfinal in 2014 and again in the region semifinal in 2015.
“It just shows coach Goldman does a great job,” said Snyder following the 64-61 district championship win over Robinson. “He’s been here for a while and he knows what he’s doing. He gets his teams ready for playoff time.”
As for the rest of the scrappy Jesuit team, senior center Lee Green (8.6 PPG), senior power forward Ryan Fleming (8.3 PPG, team-high 5.7 RPG) and junior guard Tyson Dunn (8.1 PPG) all need to help Darst and Snyder set the tone. Green and Fleming are big bodies who can be factors in the paint while Dunn has a solid outside shot.
The secret weapon of this group is sophomore point guard Thierry Moliere. Although he’s only averaging 5.0 points per game, he has seven games with eight points or more including three double-digit performances. He comes up big in key moments which was showcased by his block with 25 seconds left against Robinson last Friday, the team’s only block of the night. The more he plays, the more confidence he gets which is a great thing for Jesuit.
This game should come down to who starts faster. Jesuit had to make half time adjustments against Robinson and it proved to work. Coach Goldman knows what works for his team and if they can build an early lead against Lake Wales they should be able to win. However, they can’t overlook the Highlanders.
Note: The winner advances to next Tuesday’s region semifinal where they’ll face the winner of Thursday’s matchup between Robinson-Sebring.
Jake Perper is the founder of Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.
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