Santa Fe derails streaking Indians, faces No. 1 Friday

Fort White guard Melton Sanders goes up for a shot against the Santa Fe during Tuesday's Class 4A, Region 2 semifinals.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 11:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 11:36 p.m.

FORT WHITE — After what Santa Fe pulled off last week on the road in knocking off No. 3 The Villages in the opening round of the Class 4A boys state basketball playoffs, the Raiders may have actually topped that feat Tuesday night.

Again on the road, Santa Fe dominated district rival Fort White, 56-36, outscoring the Indians 32-16 in the second half to snap the home team's 14-game win streak and reach its first regional final since 2002.

It was the second straight road win and second straight win over a ranked opponent with Fort White (26-3) at No. 10. With the stunning victory, the high-flying Raiders (18-12) will get the ultimate test Friday when they travel to Orlando to face defending state champion and No. 1 Lake Highland Prep, which features the top guard in Florida in North Carolina signee Joel Berry.

“Once we knocked down that giant (The Villages), we had another giant after that one,” said Santa Fe coach Elliot Harris. “If anything, last week allowed them to believe. We are giant killers and we got another big one coming.

“Our guys are not going to be afraid of the challenge. I was an assistant coach on that staff (in 2002), I remember it like it was yesterday. This is great for our staff and our community. We are excited.”

Like in their victory over The Villages, the Raiders never trailed Tuesday night on Fort White's home court.

Ahead by four (24-20) at half, Santa Fe opened its biggest lead of the game (38-28) after back-to-back baskets by Darius Jackson and Brandon Mayes.

In the fourth, with a 10-point lead, the Raiders milked about three minutes off the clock as Fort White players seemed unsure what to do. Santa Fe then went on a 10-0 run, opening a commanding 50-30 advantage after Mayes hit a free throw.

“We came in this game and felt we could do it,” said Mayes, a sophomore, who finished with 14 points. “No one believed in us, but we proved it tonight. We came in with the right mindset.”

Fort White had beaten Santa Fe in three of four previous meetings before Tuesday, including the District 5 final (61-53). But the Raiders took command of the game early, limiting the Indians to just five points in the first period and six in the fourth. They held the Indians top two scorers, Melton Sanders and Qurin Porter, to just 10 points total.

“I would rather lose the district championship and win the sweet 16 game,” Harris said. “Our guys just believed. They (Fort White) had a difficult time playing against our defense. We weren't going to let Qurin Porter hurt us with 3-pointers. He scored 21 against us in the district final. We blanked him and he got one 3-pointer tonight.”

Jackson led the Raiders with 16 points, 10 in the second half. Chris Cottrell was the only Indian in double figures with 10.

“That is the best I've seen them play all season,” Fort White coach Isaiah Phillips said of Santa Fe. “The shots we usually make we didn't tonight. We had a pretty good game plan, we just didn't execute on offense.

“We haven't play behind but maybe once all year, we could never get in rhythm. They did a good job in taking away two of our best players from scoring.”

Harris said while the team will enjoy this victory Tuesday night, it is back to work today and Thursday in preparation for its biggest challenge. Twelve years ago, Santa Fe didn't just reach the regional finals, but also the state tournament.

Can the Raiders pull off maybe the biggest win in program history on Friday?

“That is probably going to be the real test for us,” Jackson said. “They (Lake Highland) have a lot of good players. We are going to do whatever we have to do. We are going to leave all the blood, sweat and tears out there on the court.”

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