Polk County has historically been well-known for high school football and the numerous state champions, college football and professional players that it has produced. The fact of the matter is boy’s basketball has been very good over the years as well. One of the more dominant programs has been the Bartow Yellow Jackets. All programs have ups and downs over the course of time and it certainly is a great time to be a Bartow basketball fan.
The run that the Bartow High School basketball program is currently on, ranks right up there with any of the great times the program has experienced. That is certainly saying something, since Bartow has won 25 District Titles, 11 Regional Titles, three State Runner Ups and four State Championships.
Saturday night, Bartow traveled to Freedom High School in Tampa to take on the Patriots for the Class 7A Regional Title and a berth into the State Finals at the Lakeland Center.
With Bartow fans taking up well over half of the gym, the Jackets jumped out quickly on the Patriots 8-2 as they pounded the ball inside to Jackets big man, Tony Bradley. Bartow was having their way with Freedom as Bartow hit shot after shot and saw the lead balloon to 17-4 with 2:56 left in the first quarter. You do not make the Regional Final game without being a good team and having a little fight in you. That was true of Freedom as they came roaring back to close the gap to 21-16 at the end of the first quarter. Their efforts were led by some questionable foul calls that resulted in Bradley having to leave the game in the first quarter and he would sit most of the second quarter. Even with the super sophomore out of the game, Bartow turned up the heat on the defensive side of the court and grew their lead to 12 points, 41-29 at the half.
The spirit of Freedom seemed to be broken with 5:44 left in the third quarter when 6’9” Bradley grabbed a rebound off a Patriot shot and took it the entire length of the court for a layup. He was fouled on the play and made the free throw making the score 46-32. A 6-foot-9 center just isn’t supposed to be able to handle the ball like that. To their credit, Freedom made a couple of runs in the second half but just were outmanned at every position by the Jackets.
As the final horn sounded, the Jackets captured their 11th regional title with a 69-54 win.
This will be Bartow’s fourth trip to the State Finals in the last six years. This type of run has only been done one other time when Bartow reached the Final Four in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979.
Bartow was led by Bradley with 29 points and 12 rebounds as well as Deyontre Jordan with his 17 points. The Jackets also got a terrific performance from Point Guard Derrick Brooks as he had eight points, eight assists and 10 rebounds.
After the game Brooks had this to say, “We are excited to be heading back to the Lakeland Center. This year we had to work harder to get there (the Jackets lost in the State Semi-Finals last year). Nobody expected us to be able to get back there; they doubted us after we started 5-8. Our coaches are the reason we are headed back, they are just awesome. They never gave up on us when we were struggling.”
Bradley echoed Brooks’ comments about the coaching staff. “They do a tremendous job of getting us ready to play. We wouldn’t win without them and the scouting reports we get on the other teams are amazing.”
The win raised the Jacket record to 20-10 on the season and puts them two wins away from the school’s fifth State Championship. Bartow last won a State Championship in 2010.
Bartow will play Thursday night at the Lakeland Center against the Melbourne High School Bulldogs. The Bulldogs will enter the contest with a 28-2 record. Needless to say, the Jacket Nation needs to fill up the Lakeland Center and provide a home court advantage. The game will tip at 7 p.m. with tickets available now at the Lakeland Center box office.