There are times when you attend a sporting event and you just know you are witnessing something special. It is either a dominant performance from an individual player, a team coming together as one or an atmosphere so electric you can literally feel it. Saturday night all three of these things happened as the Bartow Boy’s Basketball team (27-3) took on the Oak Ridge High School Pioneers (24-6) at The Hive.
The contest was for the Class 7A Region 2 Title. The winner of the game would secure a berth in the State Finals at the Lakeland Center. If Bartow won, it would be their third State Finals trip in the last five years under Jackets Head Coach Terrence McGriff. If Oak Ridge won, it would be their third trip in the last four years.
Almost an hour before the game the gym was nearly full as the anticipation of this heavyweight fight was building. It was another historic night for a Bartow program rich in history, already owning four state titles, three state runners-up, nine regional championships and 24 district titles.
The game started with Oak Ridge hitting a three pointer. Bartow answered with a basket inside by Karlos Odum. Right back down the court came the Pioneers, hitting another three, making the score 6-2. After trading baskets, Roy Graham drained a long three pointer for the Jackets, trimming the deficit to one, 8-7. Chris Perry then tied the game on Bartow’s next possession, making one of two free throws.
It seemed that would be the way the game would go, back in forth. However, with 1:29 left to go in the first quarter, Graham made a beautiful steal in the open court. He proceeded to lay it in to give Bartow a 12-8 lead. Another defensive stop for Bartow led to an inside basket from Perry. He was fouled on the play and was able to make the free throw. As the horn sounded, Bartow had ended the quarter on an 11-0 run to take a seven point lead, 15-8.
The Jackets continued that run in the second quarter as Ricky Williams started it with another BHS three pointer. Oak Ridge finally scored on their next possession, making the score 18-10.
Bartow would increase its advantage to 30-17 with 2:53 left to go in the opening half. The Pioneers responded with a 8-0 run of their own before Perry made two free throws just before halftime. So, after one half of play the hometown team led 32-25.
The Jackets came out on a mission to put the Pioneers out of the game early in the second half. Three straight monster dunks by Bartow set the tone early in the half and sent the Jacket Nation into a frenzy. Oak Ridge would get as close as five points with 5:25 left in the third but that would be it as the Jackets had an answer for every Pioneer run.
The rest of the way Bartow used its standard suffocating defense in route to a 75-58 win. The victory secured the Jackets their 10th Regional Championship in school history and more importantly a spot in Friday’s State Semi-Final game at the Lakeland Center.
Bartow was led by an inspired Perry with 21 points, Odum with 14 and 12 points from Kerry Jones.
Bartow, ranked second in the state, will face the top-rated team in Class 7A, Blanche Ely, 25-1 at 4 p.m. on Friday. To purchase tickets, contact 863-834-8137 or visit the Lakeland Center box office at 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland. Tickets for the game are $10. Parking is $7.