The Bartow High School boys’ basketball team – ranked number two in Class 7A – has busted out of the gates this season, beginning the season with a perfect 6-0 record and this week they beat the state champions, Lake Wales by 20 points.
The Jackets have early season victories over Auburndale 68-58, Tenoroc 69-35 and Kathleen 86-64.
On Dec. 8, Bartow traveled to Montverde Academy to participate in The Hoops Mountain Challenge. There they took on a Leesburg team that returns a lot of talent from a team that was the Class 6A Runner Up last year and the Class 4A State Champion in 2011. The Jackets found the game tied 14-14 after one quarter and took a slim two-point lead to the half, 32-30.
Bartow extended the lead to three after three quarters of play. The teams spilt the fourth quarter, both scoring 18 points and giving Bartow a hard fought 66-63 win.
Chris Perry led the Jackets with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Point Guard Derek Brooks was masterful in running the Bartow office, chipping in 15 points and dishing out eight assists.
Tuesday night Bartow headed to Lake Wales to take on the Highlanders. The current seniors on the varsity roster had never beat Lake Wales. The team came in averaging 71 points a game and would need more of the same against the explosive Lake Wales squad.
The pregame was very low key in the lockerroom. It was a businesslike environment with the team listening as head coach Terrence McGriff reviewed the scouting report. It was noticeable that there was a nervous energy in the room. This team is very confident in their abilities, in their coaches and the work they have done to get ready for this season and a possible state title run.
However, they were about to play the number one ranked team in Class 5A and the defending state champs.
It didn’t take long to see the team did not leave the nervousness in the lockerroom. The team seemed out of sorts as the game started. Before Bartow knew it, it found itself in a five point hole 16-11 after one quarter of play.
The second quarter saw the Jackets start to turn the game around, but each time Bartow would close to within two or three points, Lake Wales would nail open three pointers to extend the lead back.
As the horn sounded for the half, Bartow trailed 31-27 but for the large Bartow crowd, the Jackets seemed like they were in a much deeper hole.
Once again, in the lockerrom McGriff was all business with McGriff and his assistant coaches calmly coaching the team up. The players took in every word. There was no panic, these players know these coaches have been through these battles before and will put them in a position to be successful.
The only question McGriff had for his players was this: “They (Lake Wales) just punched you in the mouth. Do you guys have it in you to punch back?”
That ended the halftime talk and the players and coaches returned to the court to see what the answer to McGriff’s question would be.
It did not take long to find out. Bartow used suffocating defense and exploded for 23 third quarter points. The Jackets closed the third quarter with a game controlling 11-2 run, leading 50-42 with one quarter to play.
With the game still not in the bag, the Jackets did what all good teams do, they finished. Bartow outscored Lake Wales 21-9 in the final quarter. Bartow won the game 71-51.
Brooks put Bartow on his back and led the Jackets in the second half, scoring 12 of his team high 16 points. Four other Jackets were in double figures with Kerry Jones adding 12, Vontarius West chipping in 12, Karlos Odum with 10, and Perry with 11.
Bartow will hit the road again Friday night as the travel to Lake Region for their first district game. The varsity game will tip at 7:30 p.m. The game was played after the deadline for this edition.
On Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 7:30 p..m., Bartow will be at home to take on Haines City in another district matchup.