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Championship Day! Four State Titles Starting at Noon Today!

Today’s Schedule

Girls 1A at Noon: Lake Highland Prep vs American Heritage-Delray

Girls 2A at 2:30pm: Plant vs Bartram Trail

Boys 1A at 5:00pm: Benjamin vs Community School

Boys 2A at 7:30pm: Lake Mary vs Plant

The games are being streamed on the NFHS Network

I will be providing analysis pre-game, after each quarter and post-game, plus interviews with the winning coaches on Twitter; look for the FloridaLX twitter handle.

The Substack articles will pick back up on Monday, and there will be plenty of content to get to after the high school season is done!

Lake Highland vs AH-Delray

Both teams were massively impressive yesterday and this has the potential to be a thinking lacrosse fan’s classic. Although AH-Delray won the first game 14-5, that was early in the season and both schools are playing lights out right now. LHP handled St Stephen’s 16-4 yesterday and AH-Delray took the 17-3 win yesterday. Most of the years of this rivalry, it’s been a good idea not to extrapolate from the regular season result.

In my opinion, the comment about the thinking lacrosse fan refers to a few things. This has become one of the great rivalries in the state; a string of championship finals, great regular season games, two coaches that have to make adjustments based on what they see in their previous game, and this year, a simple contrast.

Watching the two semifinal games, I was struck by the difference in size vs speed between these two this year. LHP has an advantage in size and AH-Delray in speed. The last two years saw the team that took advantage of their difference won the game and I see that happening again. Of course, both coaches understand this and their tactics are geared towards this matchup.

LHP clearly wore down St Stephen’s top players and the physicality was effective; even more so in the hot conditions. AH-Delray displayed an extraordinary transition game against Episcopal School and a lot of that was their foot speed and quickness in recognizing opportunities, bot with the ball and off-ball.

This game comes down to which approach is executed better. The heat didn’t seem to effect wither team yesterday; both can go deep on the bench and when you have possession in this heat (I put my hand on the field and it felt like my shower turned up close to what I can stand, so it is not a picnic), you can dictate making the defense chase. I suspect we’ll see a similar approach to when LHP last won, they will be patient and maneuver to use their size inside, while AH-Delray is more of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and will continue to press on the ride, break and push tempo.

It is impossible to take a few players out of their game with these two, as the scoring is so spread out, so execution and taking care of the ball, as the old lacrosse term goes, will go a long way. LHP might have some advantage on the draw controls, so watch for that. Goaltending is top notch too.

If this is similar to the regular season, I’d be shocked. I still see AH-Delray as the favorite, but it should be a close game and one last thing to understand is that both of these teams have been deadly in running off clock should it be needed.

Plant vs Bartram Trail

If there was ever a good place to talk about the old wrestling saying ‘To be the Man/Woman, you have to beat the Man/Woman’, it’s about beating Bartram Trail in a Final Four. The last 5 games saw FOUR one-goal wins! 2022-Steinbrenner 5-4, Vero 8-7; 2023-Plant 13-6, St Thomas 5-4, 2024-Vero 6-5. Also, the regional final over Lake Mary was in OT. They are comfortable playing low-scoring games and more importantly, know how to win them.

Plant went undefeated so far in 2024, and the memory of last year’s semifinal game has to be both a motivation for this season, but also a lingering challenge to be answered. How they handle that challenge goes a long way to determining the outcome, as i don’t see either team running away with this one, regardless of their records. Plant (both Boys and Girls) are the first Tampa-area programs to make the state finals under the FHSAA-sanctioned period, and there’s always a little bit of nerves for any team the first time they play for a final, no matter what sport you are talking about.

Plant played a strong, all-around game in the semifinals, pulling away against Stoneman Douglas in the late game 16-5 yesterday, while Bartram played the earlier game. That might actually be a little advantage for Plant, in that their game was already on a shaded field. This is a very short turnaround for both and the heat will be back in force. What I saw yesterday was Plant liking transition while Bartram is more patient and is willing to rely on their defense.

Just like the first game, I see a battle of who gets to play their game being a decisive factor. Both teams have difference makers, so it could also be who makes that key late play. As with any championship game, you try to take care of possessions because unforced turnovers get magnified in their importance since numbers of possessions tend to shrink. Hot goaltending and the corollary are also mean a lot.

Plant has to ‘Beat the Woman’; can they do that and bring home Tampa’s first title? I like their chances if they take care of the ball. If they can’t, it will be Bartram’s 3-peat, a remarkable accomplishment for any public school.

Benjamin vs Community School

One thing I can guarantee in this prediction is that we will have a first-time winner in Boys 1A, as neither has won this under the FHSAA Varsity era. Benjamin did have title success at the club level. These two teams got here in remarkable, eye-popping fashion, but totally different scores. Benjamin’s performance versus Bolles, particularly the second half, was sort of a third-standard deviation result. Offense went crazy and nothing went right for Bolles.

And what did Community School do to get there? Only arguably the biggest upset in FHSAA Final Four history (and please, to those who are still uninformed, MaxPreps national rankings are not to be taken seriously, let this great accomplishment stand for what it was without the claim). Community School did the unthinkable in reversing a big home loss to the Scots, 15-6, back in early March. Cal Wyatt with 8 goals, including the OT game winner taking a 40-yard feed from back-up goalie #7 (who is not listed on the MaxPreps roster!), who’s first touch after being forced into action after Michael Slusar finally succumbed to the heat after 3 huge OT saves, will go down in CSN lore. One other factor in the upset was the faceoff performance of Isaac Lyon, who went 72%.

CSN has sort of the home field advantage and the Thursday game was well attended; Benjamin’s faithful travel well too and there will be plenty of Orange in the stands. Before the upset, I was thinking of predicting Benjamin to win over SA, so this becomes an even more intriguing prediction for me.

Benjamin’s weakness this year was faceoffs, yet they found a way to overcome that in later games. They barely won a few against a very strong Lake Highland, and last year’s LHP win over them in the regional final was partly based on that, but the regional final this year also had a similar stat and Benjamin still pulled away. Benjamin’s offense is high-powered and they can change it up, and they have a physical component to their offense on top of that. Community’s game against SA focused on patience and possession and they found a way to isolate Wyatt against an SA pole and take advantage of over-commitment. I’m sure Benjamin’s strategy defensively will be to focus on that. One thing to watch for is when Benjamin gets a fast break, they are deadly with finding the trailer for open looks.

Can CSN take advantage of their faceoffs and play enough possession to keep the ball out of the hands of the Benjamin offense? One risk to CSN in this one is emotional; pulling an upset like that two days ago is hard to come back and produce again and if Benjamin gets out to a 4-5 goal lead, they are not built to come back. They never trailed by more than a goal vs SA and they have to produce a similar game.

I do like Benjamin in this one, as the Bucs, who have been to a number of final fours and a title game, finally get that elusive championship. Regardless, CSN has shown they are the new kid on the block in 1A and we’ll be hearing more from them in the future.

And if Benjamin wins, besides Coach Cordrey, the kids, the staff and the fan base, I’m going to remember to silently toast Shane Rye and Riordan Cheatham . . .

Lake Mary vs Plant

Just like the Girls game, Plant faces the daunting challenge of ‘beating the man’. Unlike the Girls final, Plant is not the #1 seed comng in, and I see this as much harder a challenge that the Girls face. A one-goal win in the opening round, an OT win over Newsome in the regional final, and a solid win over a rebuilding Winter Park was not the same path Lake Mary faced, with a big win over Ponte Vedra in the regional final and a ‘gut-it-out’ semifinal with St Thomas. These are two very different paths.

Lake Mary is a deep offense (at least 2 midfield lines), strong man on man defense and solid goaltending and faceoff specialist. They have difference-makers on offense and are very experienced. Plant made their run this year through strong goaltending and situational offense, taking advantage of opportunities when presented. They had to overcome some enormous graduation losses the last two years.

This is the easiest game for me to predict this day, and even more so after Lake Mary got the scare of their season late Thursday, so don’t expect any complacency coming into this one for them. Plant’s great run needs to be appreciated fully, but Lake Mary will win this one and I believe comfortably, as they go back-to-back.