There are only three boys basketball teams in Class 4A-District 9, and the top two – Berkeley Prep and Tampa Catholic – appear to be in a dead heat for a district title.
In the first of what will almost assuredly feature three or more games of the Bucs vs. Crusaders this season, Berkeley won 58-56 Tuesday night.
The second matchup is scheduled for Jan. 25 at Berkeley and the third game will most likely be Feb. 8 for the district title. The other team in the district, Booker, has already been blown out by both TC (12-6, 1-1) and Berkeley (16-2, 2-0).
On Tuesday, it looked like TC might have the upper hand, jumping ahead 11-3 and taking a 29-25 lead into the half.
However, TC lost its shooting touch in the second half while Berkeley, which didn't exactly shoot well itself, found enough spark to take a 41-40 lead after three quarters.
"The truth is, we never really did shoot the ball well," said Berkeley Prep coach Bobby Reinhart of his team's 21-for-62 shooting effort from the floor. "It was ugly on both sides, but I think that's going to happen when you get two tough teams going at it like this."
TC made a paltry six of 27 shots from beyond the 3-point line, where the Crusaders have made or broke themselves this season.
"We absolutely cannot afford to shoot like that," TC coach Don Dziagwa said. "Not this team."
In particular, TC's three best outside shooters – Chivarsky Corbett, Isiah Thomas and Sam Harris – shot a combined 2-for-19 from beyond the 3-point circle.
Nonetheless, TC did get a final 3-point look to win at the buzzer when Thomas drove up the court and pulled up, the ball slipped out of his hand.
Berkeley's Justin Gray led all scorers with 18 points, followed by teammate Marshall Holmes. Corbett, who came in averaging 25 points a game, finished with 17, while Thomas chipped in 14.
Two players hit 1,000 career points
Tampa Prep stayed perfect, topping Seffner Christian, 68-33, but the victory for the Terrapins had milestones for each team, as the Terrapins' Josh Heath and Crusaders' Barrett Swartz each eclipsed the 1,000 career point mark.
The defending Class 3A state champion Terrapins improved to 19-0.
Heath, who has committed to play for his father Stan Heath at South Florida next season, tied his season high in the win.
Swartz had 13 points.