Tigers roar to state championship

Posted on 15 March 2018 by LeslieM

By Gary Curreri

With as much time as Blanche Ely basketball coach Melvin Randall spends in Lakeland, maybe he should consider getting a condo there.

The Tigers coach led his boys’ basketball team to their fifth title in seven seasons as they cruised past Jacksonville Creekside, 77-54 in the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Class 8A state championship on Saturday night at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

Randall, who has won a state-record eight basketball championships, six at Blanche Ely and two at neighboring Deerfield Beach, said this championship is even sweeter than when the squad went undefeated in 2015.

There was adversity this time around, dealing with a number of setbacks early in the season — namely an 18-point loss to University School.

We took a couple of beatings along the way, which is okay, but growth came in and helped us to get to where we are now,” said Randall. “We were inconsistent in the beginning of the season because they weren’t used to playing with one another and, as the season went on, they understood how to play with one another.”

Randall is 16-1 in the state final four and 8-0 in championship games.

The Tigers finished the season at 24-8. They had two starters back from last year’s team in Joshua Scott and Michael Forrest.

Scott, a junior forward, led the Tigers with 26 points and six rebounds. He was a perfect 7 of 7 from the field and 12 of 14 from the free-throw line. Forrest, a senior guard, had 21 points and helped Blanche Ely win 13 of their final 14 games of the season. Senior guard Anthony Byrd added 14 points.

It’s been an amazing journey,” said Forrest, who struck from distance with a game-high 4 three-pointers. “We won state my sophomore year and came back to win again this year.

With all the things (Coach Randall) does for us, this the only way we can give back to him – just winning the state championship for him.”

We play for Mr. Randall, and I do what I have to do to win,” said Scott, who also had 26 points in the team’s semifinal win.

Added Forrest: “Last year was very disappointing. I really wanted to win two in a row and get that third ring, so I think it motivated us this year.

I thought we would go pretty far this year,” Forrest said. “The intensity was better this year. I think we really played better defense too.

Forrest said going into his senior year was both “fun, but kind of scary too.”

I wanted to go out winning a state tournament,” Forrest said. “(This journey) has been a lot of hard work. A lot of long hours, just being in the gym with Mr. Randall and the other coaches who have helped me become who I am today.”

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