The Rock reaches Class 1A final


Clearwater Calvary Christian's John Gammon (12) tries to stop The Rock's Vytas Sulskis (15) as he drives to the basket during the Class 1A Boys State Basketball semifinal game at the Lakeland Center.

PIERRE DUCHARME/The Lakeland Ledger
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

LAKELAND — It may have been the first time in the history of athletics at The Rock that a team had played in the FHSAA state semifinals, but you wouldn't have known that watching the Lions boys basketball team defeat Clearwater Calvary Christian, 51-38, Wednesday afternoon.

Carrying itself in an almost emotionless and very businesslike manner, The Rock never trailed the Warriors (27-3). And now the Lions (24-7) will face Orlando Pine Castle Christian (24-6), 49-38 winners against Boca Raton Grandview Prep, for the Class 1A title Friday at noon in The Lakeland Center.

"We feel we're not done yet," said 6-foot-10 junior center Anton Tuz, who scored six points. "We came here to win a state championship. Our minds are set on Friday."

They got the job done Wednesday in a variety of ways.

Early on The Rock's guards fed Tuz in the post, and 1:33 into the contest he already had drawn two fouls on 6-9 Kevin Cantinol, forcing the Mississippi signee to the bench until the start of the second quarter when the Lions already had built a 15-7 lead.

"That was big time and probably altered the course of the contest," Calvary Christian coach Dave Bintz said. "I call Kevin the foundation of the team, and without that foundation, it makes it harder for us to run what we want."

Defensively, the Lions put in-your-face pressure on Warriors' senior guard Brian Horrach, the team's leading scorer at 15.5 points-a-game. The result was a 2-for-14 shooting performance that included a 1-of-9 effort from 3-point range and just eight total points.

Combine that with the 2-for-10 shooting of Andrew Giancola, and The Rock's perimeter defenders — Scottie Wilbekin, Josh Snodgrass, Vytas Sulskis, Chris Peoples and Borgia M'Bala — forced Calvary Christian's starting backcourt into a 4-for-24 outing.

"We were trying to take Brian away offensively," Lions' coach Svend Wilbekin said. "He was a concern because he is a very good player and a very good 3-point shooter. We tried to take away his strengths and slouch off on the big men (Cantinol and 6-7 junior Christian Bibi Ndongo, who combined for more fouls, nine, than points, eight)."

On offense The Rock got points from all five starters in the first quarter and were led by Snodgrass and Youngstown State signee Sulskis, who each scored 15 points. Scottie Wilbekin showed no signs of nerves, despite being just an eighth-grader, scoring nine points on 3-of-6 three-point shooting.

And even though it was the Lions first game playing in an arena with bleachers behind the baskets, a depth perception issue that affects numerous clubs in their first final four appearance, The Rock shot 23-of-27 from the foul line with Sulskis and Snodgrass combining to sink 17-of-18.

The Lions also had just eight turnovers, a number they hope to duplicate or better on Friday when they try to complete a goal they've had all season.

"Coach has always asked us to step up," said Sulskis, who also finished with a team-best six rebounds. "We are focused on what we're here to do.

"When we're done, we're going to celebrate."

Contact John Patton at 374-5074 or pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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