Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Can Consistent Palatka Stay Alive? Streaking Panthers Play a Lot of Close Games - and Win Most of Them

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Can Consistent Palatka Stay Alive? Streaking Panthers Play a Lot of Close Games - and Win Most of Them

Article excerpt

Byline: Justin Barney

LAKELAND | The last time Palatka reached a boys basketball state semifinal, Bryant Oxendine was an assistant coach taking it all in.

Four years later, the Panthers are his team, with one mission left - win a state championship.

Palatka (21-8) will face Cape Coral Mariner (22-7) at 1 p.m., Thursday in the Class 6A state semifinals at the Lakeland Center with an eye on reaching its first title game since 1928. Should the Panthers, and Ribault, in the other half of the semifinals, both win, it would be the first time in area history that two teams from the area played for the championship.

An All-First Coast final is a familiar scenario for Oxendine.

Oxendine joined the Palatka staff for the 2012-13 season in which the Panthers reached the state semifinals, with a potential title game against Bishop Kenny looming. But Kenny lost to Tampa Jesuit and Palatka to Plantation American Heritage to end those hopes.

Oxendine remembers that season very well. He was promoted to head coach in the 2016 offseason to replace Donald Lockhart, the coach who took Palatka to its last final four. Oxendine said that year stuck with him and has helped lay the foundation for just the program's fourth state semifinal berth since 1964.

"What I took from that season was, if you're consistent with the guys, they'll play hard for you, do the right thing," he said. "We have two more [wins] left in us, I really believe that with all of my heart."

The Panthers have been consistent most of the season. Consistent in wins - they enter riding an eight-game winning streak - and consistent in losses. Palatka has eight victories by single-digits or less. And of the Panthers' eight defeats, six were by four points or less.

Palatka, Oxendine said, took plenty from those early and midseason losses, and close wins to put it all together and feel comfortable with whatever type of game they're involved in. …

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