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February 28, 2013
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Joel Berry gets most of the publicity when it comes to the Lake Highland Prep Highlanders.
It's well deserved for the North Carolina commitment. But Berry received plenty of help in the Class 4A boys' basketball championship game at the Lakeland Center.
The junior led Lake Highland Prep with 21 points as the Highlanders captured the first state boys' basketball title in school history over St. Andrew's, 67-50.
But the other stories of the game for LHP (24-5) were seniors Denzel Davis, a Rice signee, and BJ Simpson.
Davis had 16 points, including 3 three-pointers, and Simpson chipped in with 15 points, six assists and five rebounds as the Highlanders grabbed a double-digit lead in the second quarter and never looked back.
St. Andrew's finished the season 24-4.
"We got great production from Davis and Simpson, and that loosened things up for Joel," said Lake Highland Prep coach Jeff Turner. "St. Andrew's threw some interesting things at us, but our entire team stepped up in this game."
Berry was only 6-for-16 from the floor, but was 8-for-11 from the free throw line. He praised the play of the guys around him.
"I was just being patient and that left BJ and Denzel open, so I got it to them," he said. "We have other players that can step up and they did."
Berry added this definitely meant more than personal awards.
"Oh, I would rather be state champion than Mr. Basketball," he said. "I know a lot of the focus is on me but I'm happy for the seniors and the entire team."
It's been a long road back for LHP, which lost to Pine Forest, 63-57, in 2012. But Turner knew his team had a singular focus this season - to win a state title.
"Our seniors worked hard and were on a mission from a year ago," Turner said. "They were determined to change the outcome and they got it done."
In Class 6A, defending champion Miami Norland used a 22-0 run in the second half to eliminate Gainesville, 73-50.
The Vikings (25-5) were led by Zachary Johnson, who finished with a game-high 19 points, five steals and six assists.
Gainesville (21-10) was led by Michael McCray with 15 points.
In the other 6A semifinal, Pine Forest won its school-record 30th game with a 59-52 win over Winter Haven (21-10).
Charlie Wilson led Pine Forest with 13 points, while Shamar Johnson added 11.
Chance McSpadden had 15 points in the loss.
Norland will try to win its fourth title in the past eight years on Saturday at 1:35 p.m., while Pine Forest will be playing in its first state final in school history.