SEBRING - It's best to save something special for the playoffs. That's what Sebring coach Princeton Harris did as the Blue Streaks unveiled a suffocating full-court press that forced 21 Cape Coral turnovers en route to an easy 63-45 win over the Seahawks in Thursday's Class 5A-Region 4 quarterfinals.
"We hadn't used our press much this season," Harris said. "We've been working on it in practice and we did a good job of executing it against Cape Coral and forcing them into turnovers which we converted into points.
"Our press forced the tempo to where we like it and allowed us to take advantage of our athleticism." The playoff win, which snapped a three-game losing streak in the state playoffs, improved Sebring to 19-6.
The Blue Streaks host Mariner in the regional semifinals on Tuesday night. Mariner blasted Lemon Bay by a score of 72-43 in their quarterfinal game.
"The fourth time was the charm," Harris said. "It's nice to finally get a win in the quarterfinals and move on to the regional semifinals.
"This is a big win for our program and now we have to get ready to play a very good Mariner team."
Sebring wasted no time in jumping out to a quick lead utilizing its quickness and swarming full-court press to take a 10-4 lead into the second quarter.
When Cape Coral was able to break the press, the Seahawks had trouble scoring against the physical defense of the Blue Streaks.
Sebring sophomore guard Connor Cook poured in six of his 16 points and Keizhan Hester added four of his team-high 18 points to give the Blue Streaks a commanding 27-9 halftime lead over the Seahawks.
"We got the ball inside where we wanted it," said Harris. "Once we got the lead we just kept the pressure on and made cape Coral use a lot of time just bringing the ball up the floor."
Cape Coral rallied in the third quarter as senior guard Jovan Boyd scored six of his game-high 21 points and C.J. Lewis added four of his 11 points as the Seahawks pulled within 34-21 midway through the period.
That's as close as Cape Coral got, as Sebring's Hester scored six points and Gary Demarest added four of his 11 points to give the Blue Streaks a 37-21 lead heading to the final eight minutes.
Sebring ran clock on each possession in the final period and forced Cape Coral to foul.
The Blue Streaks converted their free throws to seal the playoff win.
"We knew Cape Coral wanted to slow things down," Harris said. "We forced them into playing our style of basketball early with the pressure and forced them into a lot of mistakes."
Sebring gets to play at home on Tuesday night, but the Blue Streaks will have their hands full with an experienced and talented Mariner team.
"Mariner is a good team and they have a guy they like to go to inside," Harris said. "We're going to work on a few things in practice and we'll be ready to play come Tuesday."