Posted: 1:42 pm Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Hoops: Spanish River readies for historic night 

By Jeff Greer

For the first time in school history, Spanish River boys’ hoops is playing in a state semifinal. The Sharks’ opponent, Hialeah Gardens, is just as unfamiliar.

The FHSAA boys’ basketball record book is 178 pages long. Combined, Spanish River and Hialeah Gardens, which opened in 2009, are mentioned six times, all of them Spanish River.  But don’t be fooled: River’s only made one appearance before this year, and the Sharks lost in the region semifinal. Hialeah Gardens never made it out of districts in the first three years of its existence.

In other words, tonight’s 8:30 p.m. game between River and Hialeah Gardens will be significant for both programs. But these teams are good — really good.

Hialeah Gardens (26-5) is the Miami Herald‘s top-ranked team in the Miami-Dade area. Spanish River was in the top three of the Post polls all season.

Tonight’s game will feature some fun matchups. Hialeah Gardens has a big four, just like River’s “Four Horsemen.” Hialeah Gardens’ Yunio Barrueta, Ray Rodriguez, Adrian Gonzalez and Gian Cavell each average more than 16 points a game. Center Simoza averages 11 points and 10 rebounds a game, the Herald reports.

River’s relied on a versatile group. Reggie Love, a 6-foot-3 wing who plays inside and out, can score, rebound and pass. He signed to play football at Wisconsin, and is an absolute handful for any defender (or offensive player for that matter). Evan Kupferberg, a bulky 6-6 center, steps out and handles the ball on occasion, but punches his card in the paint. Guards Dante Scholl (6-1) and Colton Gelb (6-1) can both shoot the lights out, and Scholl has a penetration game, too. Junior forward Ethan Goldman adds some bulk in the interior, and forces teams to pull off Kupferberg.

They share one common opponent: Deerfield Beach. Spanish River won 67-61 in the region final; Hialeah Gardens won 70-69 in the Kruel Classic back on Dec. 20. That’s not the best indicator.

In the other semifinal, Vero Beach will play Oviedo-Hagerty in another matchup of relatively inexperienced groups. Hagerty is making its first state appearance in school history. Vero went three times between 1999 and 2006, but never took a trophy. They’ll tip at 7 p.m. Friday.

Follow me on Twitter (@jeffgreer) for updates tonight.