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LAKELAND – Ely wasn’t supposed to be here.

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The Tigers didn’t have enough; they didn’t have enough returning players; they didn’t win enough games during the regular season; they didn’t win their district championship.

But for all the “didn’t’s”, what Ely did Saturday is all that matters.

Playing its best basketball over the past two weeks, Ely won its second straight Class 7A state championship Saturday – jumping out early and holding off St. Petersburg to capture an 84-70 victory at The Lakeland Center.

Ely (20-13) has now won back to back titles for the second time in five years. The Tigers, who led by as many as 22 during the fourth quarter, won consecutive crowns in 2012 and 2013 then again in 2015 and Saturday.

Head coach Melvin Randall said that this year’s title – his seventh as a head coach and fifth at Ely – is the sweetest.

“Of course, this is sweeter, it is sweeter than the 28-0 last season,” Randall said. “The fact that we only had three returning players and 12 new faces; to look at the record and for people to say that this wasn’t expected…it is much sweeter than the others.”

“This team grew up. We took some beatings along the way – we played a schedule this year that probably would’ve been better for last year’s team. But we didn’t buy into any excuses. We stayed the course. These guys stayed the course. They didn’t lay down when they could have – nobody likes to lose.”

“But in the end…we always said that we’ll be there in the end. The deal was, ‘you get me here and I’ll take it from there’.”

Junior guard Geremy Taylor, one the three returning players that had experience of winning a state title this past season, registered a triple-double Saturday. Taylor played the entire game; scoring 12 points, collecting 11 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists.

Taylor’s triple-double was only to be outdone by junior forward William Maloney, who scored a game-high 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting. With seniors Trevor Goodrum and Mark “Scooty” Houston both fouling out during the fourth quarter, it was Maloney that scored 12 of Ely’s final 14 points as St. Petersburg tried to chip away at the Tigers’ lead.

The Green Devils (25-7) never got closer than 11 points, but Houston said he still didn’t want to be on the bench during the fourth quarter.

“I was tough, but it wasn’t nerve-wreaking,” Houston said. “I knew my brothers had my back. I wasn’t worried about that.”

Six players scored in double figures for Ely. Guard Michael Forrest had 12, Josh Scott added 11, Goodrum finished with 12 and Houston ended with 10 to go along with Taylor’s and Maloney’s output.

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Taylor said his and the team’s performance came from their preparation.

“We prepared very well for St. Petersburg and we were very focused on the task at hand,” Taylor said. “Before the game, I spoke with all my teammates individually and told them what they had to do to win a state championship.”

“We did it and we won,” Taylor said plainly.

Last year, the Tigers became only the sixth program in FHSAA history to complete a “perfect season” since the turn of the century – going 28-0. This season, Ely didn’t win its district, lost in the championship game of the BCAA Big 8 and totaled 13 losses.

But Ely didn’t look like a team with that many losses as they went on a run in every quarter – starting with a 9-0 run in the first quarter, which led to a 16-11 lead after the first minutes. Then, Ely started the second quarter on a 15-1 run and after leading 36-24 at halftime, the Tigers opened the third quarter with an 8-0 spurt.

St. Petersburg was bothered by Ely’s full court pressure defense and couldn’t find any traction offensively until the fourth quarter. Still the Green Devils had five players score 10 or more points, led by Darius Banks’ 18 points and A.J. Ford’s 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Green Devils head coach Chris Blackwell said that he wasn’t fooled by Ely’s record coming in.

“They are a very good team,” Blackwell said. “I know they played a tough schedule. But they’re very good at what they do. And we had trouble answering them when they challenged us, which only made things get worse once we fell behind.”

For Randall, Saturday’s win puts him in a class all by himself. After winning two rings at Deerfield Beach (1997 & 1999) to go along with his four with Ely, he owned the Broward County record for most state titles but was tied with Miami Norland’s Lawton Williams for the most in South Florida (Miami-Dade or Broward counties).

Fort Lauderdale Dillard’s Darryl Burrows joined the “six rings” club Saturday when his Panthers won the Class 6A title.

But Randall now stands alone with the seventh title.

“I’m blessed,” Randall said in an initial moment of reflection. “When I first got into coaching I said that I wanted to leave a stamp as one of the best coaches in Broward County history. I didn’t think it would be winning seven rings. I don’t know what’s ahead of me, so right now I’m just going to enjoy this one.”

Box Score

Class 7A state championship: Pompano Beach Blanche Ely 84, St. Petersburg 70 – BE (20-13): Maloney 20, Taylor 12, Forrest 12, Goodrum 12, Scott 11, Houston 10, Stampley 7. STP (25-7): Banks 18, Smith 13, Ford 12, Bianco 11, Reid 10, Miller 2, Saddler 2. Halftime: BE 36-24. Three-pointers: Goodrum 2, Houston 2, Banks 2, Forrest, Smith, Bianco. Fouled out: Goodrum, Houston, Ford. Rebounds: Taylor 11. Assists: Taylor 10. Steals: 2 tied 3. Blocks: 2 tied 1.

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