Palmetto’s boys basketball team plays for a regional championship Saturday night and does so with a modest record that is a testament to the team’s success.
The Tigers take a 16-12 mark into the Region 3 championship game against Winter Haven, which is 20-7, a record more suited for a team on the cusp of heading to The Lakeland Center to play for a state championship.
But Palmetto is its record.
And that’s a good thing.
Check out the Tigers’ roster. A good chunk of it spent four months playing football during Palmetto’s run to the state semifinals. That season didn’t end until Dec. 9.
Palmetto played its first regular-season basketball game Nov. 29.
Makes sense to call this a curse. Makes even more, however, to call it a blessing.
Winning breeds winning.
Winning is contagious.
Winning is addictive.
Do it once and you never want to stop.
And now those same football players who learned how to win this past fall inside Harllee Stadium are winning again inside of William “Butch” Hughes Gymnasium, which should be rocking Saturday when the Tigers try to tame the Blue Devils and win the school’s second team regional championship in a span of less than three months.
Make no mistake this season isn’t just about the football players. Jordan Smith didn’t play a single snap this fall, yet it was his sizzling shooting that helped Palmetto vault past a 22-win Tampa Sickles team during Tuesday’s region semifinal.
And Smith’s second-half heroics would have gone for naught had it not been for sophomore Jarrid Rhodes, who scored 11 points during the pivotal second quarter.
Rhodes also didn’t suit up for Palmetto’s football Tigers, who went further than any other Palmetto football team had gone in 25 years.
But point guard T.J. Mann, who had 11 assists during Palmetto’s regional quarterfinal over Dover Strawberry Crest, played football.
So did Shaq Harris, who helped clamp down on Lakewood Ranch big man Ryan Cobb during the District 12 championship game. So did Ty
rone Johnson, who has hauled in his share of rebounds during the playoffs.
So did Dallas Jackson, who tried playing through a lower leg injury Tuesday.
Coach Reggie Bellamy has praised his team’s resiliency during this run, about the Tigers’ ability to erase a nine-point deficit against Strawberry Crest and an 11-point hole against Tampa Sickles.
Does all the credit go to the football players?
Palmetto’s run to the regional final has been a true team effort. Forget the stats. One or two players aren’t enough to get a team into its tournament’s elite eight, especially when that team competes in Class 6A.
But in the fall, the football Tigers learned how to win.
Now in the winter, it’s no surprise to see the basketball Tigers doing the same.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2097.