Ribault, Bishop Kenny eye spot in state basketball final four

Crusaders visit Trojans on Friday night in Region 1-4A final

Ribault will host Bishop Kenny in the Region 1-4A finals on Friday night. (2023 WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Seven local teams are still alive in the state high school basketball playoffs. Among them, Ribault and Bishop Kenny, who will face one another at Ribault on Friday.

Kenny is a bit of a surprise, considering who they had to beat to get to this point. After being beaten by Paxon twice during the season by an average of 15.5 points per game. But in the regional semifinals, Kenny pulled off a 51-44 victory over the Golden Eagles. Kenny’s offense is a balanced attack led by four players averaging eight points or more. Senior Barrett Baker averages a team-high 10.5 points per game. Justin Gist (9.9), Diego Dionisio (9.0) and OJ Eziemefe (8.0) can all lead the Crusaders on a given night.

Before upsetting Paxon, the Crusaders beat their rivals, Bolles, 40-33 in the first round of the state playoffs.

“We’re very pleased with how we played,” said Bishop Kenny head coach Jerry Buckley. “Even in some of the playoff games we hadn’t played great before so we played really well so that gives us good momentum going into Friday.”

Kenny’s sudden resurgence is due in part to Buckley’s veteran leadership. He’s been one of the more respected basketball coaches in the are for years. His team reflects his personality.

“Just play smart,” Buckley said. “I think we can play smart and not lose our composure. It’s going to be obviously difficult over there. As far as the environment and you know, they’ve got a great crowd, all these different things we can play with composure and play with our heads. We’ve got a chance.”

Ribault (24-4) is not a surprise regional finalist.

From the first day of practice this season, the team stated their goals: to go to the final four and win a state championship. The Trojans have won nine straight since a Jan. 21 loss to 6A regional finalist Ponte Vedra. They swept through the district playoffs, topping Raines and Jackson before sending Tallahassee Godby and Panama City Bay packing in the state playoffs. Caleb Williams paces the Trojans. He’s the only Ribault player who averages in double figures (13.9 ppg) while also leading the team in assists and steals.

Ribault and Bishop Kenny did not face one another in the regular season, but the fact the game features two local teams adds some spice to the matchup.

“That’s every coach’s mindset. You want to keep going,” said Ribault head coach Charles Showers. “You want to keep winning, but like I tell them, You’ve got to play the game. We’re not going to change what we do. We’re gonna play Ribault basketball and hopefully, we can come out with a win.”

The game will be the last one played in the Ribault gymnasium. They are renovating it this summer so the Trojans want to leave their stamp on the final game in The Dungeon.

“This last game played in this gym, this historical gym they take pride in,” Showers said. “They want to be the first team to put up a state championship banner and pictures in the new gym. So yeah, the history is there for you. That’s what they want to do.”

Regional finals

Games Friday at 7 p.m. unless indicated

Region 1-6A

(2) Gainesville (23-6) at (1) Ponte Vedra (21-6)

Region 1-5A

(3) Columbia (20-9) at (1) Mainland (23-5)

Region 1-4A

(3) Bishop Kenny (21-8) at (1) Ribault (24-4)

Region 1-3A

(2) Florida High (27-2) at (1) Providence (27-2)

Region 1-2A

(1) NFEI (21-8) at (2) Impact Christian (20-8)