CLASS A: St. John Neumann can't maintain slow pace as Blue Jackets run away with 69-47 win.
By LAURA LEE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2003
NAPLES -- For a while Saturday night, it looked like the Blue Jackets weren't sure if they really wanted to go to the state semifinals.
Admiral Farragut hesitated at the start of its Class A region final, allowing host Naples St. John Neumann to have its way -- slow and deliberate. And while the Celtics took their time, the Jackets faltered, missing easy shots and keeping the game close.
Farragut finally turned on its overriding speed in the second half and pulled away from the Celtics for a 69-47 win. The Blue Jackets will play Miami Northwest Christian, a 73-62 winner over Hialeah Champagnat Catholic, in the semifinals Wednesday in Lakeland.
Although the Celtics controlled the pace they still trailed Farragut 25-21 at halftime. Even the Jackets' press didn't disrupt Neumann (23-11), which kept the score surprisingly close.
Farragut coach Mike Wells said he told his team to "Step it up and play like we're capable of playing," at halftime. "We started scoring off our defense and we started getting them to play faster."
The Jackets (32-2) came out in the third quarter and went on a 20-4 run to quadruple their lead to 45-25. Farragut also switched from a man-to-man press to a zone press, which proved more effective by causing five turnovers during the run.
"We wore out," Neumann coach Tony Grasso said. "They're too physical -- bigger, stronger, more athletic."
Grasso said his team's success has been running the tempo, but the Celtics couldn't hold up for a full 32 minutes against Farragut.
"Tonight it wasn't our night," Grasso said.
Farragut sophomore Lewis Lampley led all scorers with 15 points. Vitor Boccardo scored 12 and John Whitehead added 11. The Celtics were led by Mike Szwed, a senior guard who attacked the basket and finished with 14.
Whitehead said the crowd kept his team out of the game in the first half. The stands in Neumann's gym, which seats about 500, was overflowing. Spectators were lined up along the walls and sitting in rows three-deep on the floor.
"It was loud and we couldn't communicate," Whitehead said.
Lampley said Neumann switched defenses several times during a single play, and without being able to hear the coaches call out the changes, the Jackets weren't able to make the adjustments.
Midway through the fourth quarter Wells substituted for all of his starters, saying he was worried about their well-being on the court.
"We were concerned. I thought it was getting very physical," Wells said. "We didn't think it was a basketball game. We thought it was a football game."
While the Jackets get set to go to their second final four, they might be without starting junior guard Tommy Lampley. Lampley went down in the second quarter when Celtic forward Constantin Wirschke took his legs out from under him after he stole the ball and was headed for a breakaway layup. Lampley, who landed on his left hand, did not return. Wirschke was called for a flagrant foul.