Cocoa Beach rolls into final
Minutemen run over No. 1 Pace
LAKELAND -- Cocoa Beach's boys' basketball team walked into the history books Wednesday and on their way, the Minutemen kicked defending state champion Miami Monsignor Pace to the curb.
Cocoa Beach’s Braxton Williams, left, tries to block the pass of Monsignor Pace player Ian Gibson during Wednesday’s Class 3A semifinal game at The Lakeland Center.
The Minutemen, making their first trip to the Final Four since 1975, demolished No. 1-ranked Pace, 62-31, in the Class 3A state semifinals at The Lakeland Center and earned a berth in the championship game for the first time in school history.
"We're pretty excited right now," Cocoa Beach's veteran coach Mike Gaudy said. "We've just done something that's never been done before at our school. Right now this is the most fun I've ever had -- seeing these guys here getting ready to play for the state championship. It's been a goal from the beginning, but it's hard to believe it's happening."
Ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, the Minutemen (28-2) will meet St. Petersburg Catholic for the state title at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. The Barons (29-2) and ranked No. 5, defeated Havana East Gadsden 66-55 in the other semifinal.
Cocoa Beach's triumph against Pace, which won three state championship since 1996 and 19 of its last 20 games, was pure domination. It left Spartan coach Mark Leiberman wondering if the nightmare would end.
"I'm waiting to wake up in the middle of the night and find out it was all a bad dream," he said. "Nothing went right for us from the beginning, but you have to give credit to Cocoa Beach. They did everything right. Their kids are tough."
The Beach kids did it just the way Gaudy drew it up. They were patient in their half court offense and defense and they showed great composure.
Pace came with relentless full-court pressure from the get-go, but point guard Braxton Williams frustrated the Spartans by getting the ball up front and the Minutemen passed and passed and passed until they found somebody open for a shot.
"I have a blister on my foot for the first time in three months," said Williams, who had 15 points and five assists.
Said Gaudy: "We've been very lucky because every team we've played in the region played just like Pace did. We've seen the same style and we've prepared for it in practice."
That preparation drove the Spartans bonkers.
"We couldn't dictate the flow of the game and the tempo of the game which we're used to doing," Leiberman said. "Our pressure full court wasn't working and we weren't getting turnovers for the shots we're used to getting."
But the Minutemen were getting shots and it was all because of their style of play.
Gaudy, who brought 10 Cocoa Beach girls teams to the Final Four but won only one championship (1988) said he learned something from all those trips.
"With the girls' teams we were always full court, man-to-man, in-your-face pressure, but I noticed that didn't win many championships," he said. "And I noticed the teams that were winning championships were playing half court, so that's what we went to this year."
"We knew if we passed the ball, we would have the open shots," said senior guard Carl McNally, who led all scorers with 18 points.
And if the Cocoa Beach offense was effective, the defense was even better. Held to its lowest point total of the season, Pace totaled only 18 points the final three quarters.
"I thought we played hard for 32 minutes and defended well the entire game," Gaudy said. "We made only 14 turnovers against a lot of pressure and we shot very well (59.5 percent)."
Pace, on the other hand, shot only 26 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers.
Cocoa Beach led 19-14 at the end of the first quarter, but took a comfortable 14-point cushion at halftime after outscoring the Spartans 13-4 in the second quarter.
"I wanted to just play on and not have halftime," Gaudy said. "I was scared to death they would make a comeback."
The Spartans tried, but it was feeble effort. The closest they could come in the third quarter was 11 points and when Cocoa Beach withstood the challenge, it was lights out in the fourth when the Minutemen had a 21-7 margin to pile up the final 29-point cushion.
Gaudy finally removed the last of his ironmen top seven with 50 seconds to go and the scoreboard reading Cocoa Beach 59, Pace 32.
"That was the first time I felt comfortable the whole game," said senior Tim Haars, who had 14 points including two crucial 3-pointers in the opening quarter