TAMPA — When he didn’t score to his expectations in the first half, Wharton guard Jack Taylor told himself to be a difference-maker in the second half of Friday night’s Class 8A District 7 championship against Newsome.
With his team trailing the fourth-seeded Wolves entering the third quarter, the senior carried his team to a lead it would never surrender, scoring a game-high 18 points, 13 in the second half and eight in the third quarter, in a 40-37 win for the Wildcats’ fifth consecutive district title.
Wharton (19-6) will host Palm Harbor University in the region quarterfinals on Thursday, while Newsome (17-9) will play at St. Petersburg.
“In the first quarter, I really didn’t do as good as I wanted to, and leading up to this game, a lot of hard work went into it, so when I came into the third quarter, and second half mostly, I just wanted to come out for my team and do what I can do, try to get this (championship) for a fifth year in a row and really contribute to this win.”
A deep 3-pointer by Newsome’s Harden Harkin with 36.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter cut Wharton’s lead to 40-37. With Newsome forced to foul, Wharton was sent to the foul line twice in the final 30 seconds, but went 0-for-4 at the line. Newsome had two more looks from the 3-point line but could not convert.
Newsome led 17-12 at the half. Anthony Gamble led the Wolves.
“I told the guys at halftime that, as a coaching staff, we felt like we couldn’t have struggled any more offensively than we did.” Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said. “If we just settle down and stay confident and slow things down a little bit, things would start happening for us.”
– Nick Williams
7A-8: Freedom closes out Sickles
TAMPA - The district final repeated itself over and over.
Freedom would jump out to a 10-point lead and host Sickles would cut it to seven. Over and over. Occasionally, the Gryphons would cut it to five, then Freedom would go on a run. Sickles kept getting close, but the Patriots never let them too close and closed out the Gryphons, 50-39, with a late run.
The win gives Freedom its second district title in school history.
Miguel Rojas led the Patriots with 14 points, all in the first three quarters, and Riley Blake added eight. Jaaron Barrett and Isaac Holder each had 11 for Sickles.
Freedom coach Cedric Smith said it was an all-out team effort by the Patriots.
“We had to play unselfish and make the extra pass,’’ Smith said. “We had to come together, and every time they came at us we had to have an answer.’’
After holding off the Sickles runs, Blake said he was just happy the game was over.
“It doesn’t even seem real right now,’’ Blake said. “We like to fight hard and keep the intensity up, but this one was tough. We like to play with a chip on our shoulder, because we know everything is going to be tough, but we held on.’’
The Patriots got off quickly, taking an 11-2 lead and started holding off charges by the Gryphons. It was 28-21 at the half, and the Patriots led by eight after three quarters. After that, the closest the Gryphons could get was six points down. They cut the deficit to 45-39, but Freedom scored the final five points to ice the game.
– Jeff Berlinicke
5A-9: Jesuit again defeats Robinson
TAMPA – Jesuit overcame a slow shooting start and a 10-point deficit to win its third consecutive district title and beat Robinson for the 10th straight time, 54-45 at the Tiger Palace.
Daniel Darst had 26 points, including three 3-pointers, to lead the Tigers (18-8). But the story early was Robinson holding senior leading scorer Christian Whidden off the scoreboard for almost the entire first half.
The Knights (17-10) led 17-9 with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter, and appeared content to run out the clock when a travelling call gave Jesuit the ball. They proceeded to end a 0-for-8 start from the 3-point line with one by Darst, followed by a buzzer-beater for Whidden, his first points of the half to pull within 2.
“That made all the difference in the world,” said Jesuit coach Neal Goldman. “I felt like we had basically pulled even with them at that point. And we were playing great defense.”
From there, the defense disrupted Robinson’s half-court offense and Whidden began to heat up. He finished with 19 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that gave the Tigers their first lead, 29-27 with 1:40 remaining in the third.
Robinson kept it close, led by 10 second-half points from Iyan Mitchell and nine points each of Travis Forehand and Mike Cholas, but ultimately couldn’t slow the Darst/Whitten combination. The duo had 10 of Jesuit’s 11 second half field goals and scored 34 of Jesuit’s 39 second half points.
6A-10: Mitchell falls in final to Largo
Mitchell will enter the postseason once again, but will not host in the first round like they did last season. The Mustangs got down in the first half, but battled back to take a late lead before falling 60-48 to Largo in the district championship.
“For us to come all the way back from the 12-point halftime deficit really gave us some confidence moving forward,” Mitchell coach Jared St. Charles said. “I was really proud of the guys for staying in it and fighting back. Hopefully we can win next week and get a rematch with Largo.”
Down 12 points at intermission, Mitchell chipped away at Largo’s siizable lead throughout the third quarter and by late in the fourth period, the Mustangs took a 47-46 lead. Largo, though, finished the game on a 14-1 run and pulled away for the district title. Lawrence Watt and Brian Powers paced Mitchell with 19 and 10 points.
5A-8: Gulf loses to Tarpon Springs
HOLIDAY - The combined margin of victory by Tarpon Springs over Gulf in two regular-season meetings this past season was nine points.
That number was cut by eight and an additional period would be needed to decide the winner of the district championship. Tarpon Springs won its third game against Gulf this season, as the Spongers received a clutch performance from point guard Trai Halton in a 66-65 overtime victory at Anclote High.
“Obviously it hurts and it hurts to lose like that,” Gulf coach Travis Priddy said. “The good thing is we play again. We have a chance to go out and redeem ourselves. If we would’ve played the first half like we played the second half, cleaned some things up here and there, we got a chance to win.”
Turnovers hurt Gulf (16-11) all night, as the Buccaneers turned over the basketball 21 times compared to Tarpon Springs’ six. Largest lead by either team was when Gulf led 11-4 midway through the first quarter, but Tarpon Springs (27-3) wouldn’t be down for too long.
A seesaw battle ensued in the final period, with neither team able to clinch the game in the waning moments. With the game needing overtime, Halton (25 points, 4 steals) hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with eight seconds to go, but Gulf’s James Grubb (19 points, 10 rebounds) was fouled with 0.3 left to go. His first free throw went in, but after Tarpon Springs took a timeout, Grubb missed on the second and the Spongers were able to come away with the district championship.
– Andy Villamarzo
3A-7: Tampa Prep, Brooks-DeBartolo win
TAMPA ‑ The lead never got higher than six points and basically stayed within two or three points through the entire district semifinal between Brooks-DeBartolo and Seffner Christian.
It wasn’t until the final few minutes, in fact, that Brooks-DeBartolo sealed up the victory, 47-43, after sinking six-consecutive free throws down the stretch.
“We knew it was going to be a tight battle,” Brooks-DeBartolo coach Brian Reeves said. “The first two times we played (Seffner Christian) it came down to a coin flip (won by Brooks-DeBartolo by seven and nine points).”
Brooks-DeBartolo forward Michael Obi led all scorers with 20 points and made four of the team’s six key foul shots in the final seconds. Guard Jarred Anderson chipped in with 13 points.
Brooks-DeBartolo (19-7) moves on to play in tonight’s final at 7 against tournament host Tampa Prep (22-3), which defeated Bishop McLaughlin 64-33 in the late semifinal.
Tampa Prep’s 6-foot-10 center Juwan Durham led the way with 20 points and Mike Fridella added nine.
In the first two meetings this season between the Phoenix and the Terrapins, Tampa Prep won by eight and 23 points.
– Scott Purks
4A-10: Berkeley Prep holds on top TC
TAMPA - Berkeley Prep held on for a 68-65 victory over Tampa Catholic to capture the district title for the second straight time over the Crusaders. It is the fourth consecutive title for the Buccaneers.
“The guys rose to the challenge and I’m very proud of the way they battled in a tough environment,” Berkeley Prep coach Bobby Reinhart said. “We knew Tampa Catholic was going to put up a fight like they always do and tonight was no different. We’re fortunate to win and I’m proud of the guys and the district championship.”
Playing in front of a raucous crowd at Tampa Catholic, Berkeley Prep (24-3) found itself trailing at halftime to the Crusaders, similar to the two previous games against its crosstown rival. Both times, the Buccaneers used an explosive third quarter to run away with easy victories.
The district title began to mirror those two contests when the Buccaneers turned a 39-38 deficit after two quarters into a 56-49 lead at the end of the third period. The Crusaders (15-12) stormed back in the fourth quarter and took a one-point lead three times in the last five minutes before two free throws by Marshall Holmes (11 points) with two minutes left in regulation gave the No. 2-ranked Buccaneers a 66-65 lead.
The Crusaders squandered several opportunities in the last minute to take the lead by the Buccaneers forced three turnovers before two more free throws by Holmes put Berkeley ahead by three points with 4.1 seconds left in the game.
The Buccaneers breathed a sigh of relief when a heave by Chivarsky Corbett (25 points) from half-court bounced off the back of the rim at the buzzer.
“That’s what you expect when you play them,” said Buccaneers forward Justin Gray, who had a game-high 26 points. “We just came together in the second quarter to get back in the game and we hung tough when they made that comeback. It all came down to our defense stepping up at the end. Marshall made some huge free throws down the stretch. It was a great team win.”
– Chris Girandola
2A-8: Bayshore Christian wins
TAMPA – Behind four players in double-digit scoring, Bayshore Christian (23-3) defeated Canterbury (13-10) 74-51 to win the district title.
The title is Bayshore Christian’s first since 2010 and the first for third-year coach Broderick Day.
“[The title] means a lot,” Day said. “There’s nothing quite like your first one.”
The Faith Warriors did what they did all season: defend. They forced 20 Canterbury turnovers and it led to opportunities on the other end of the floor.
At halftime, Bayshore Christian held a dominating 39-16 lead, but Canterbury roared back on the wings of a 19-4 third-quarter run to cut the lead to 10 points, but that was as close as they would get after getting outscored 21-11 in the fourth quarter.
Josh Humpries, a sophomore guard, scored 23 points and added six rebounds and three assists for the Faith Warriors.
Hunter Coia was the high scorer for the losing Crusaders. The junior guard scored 22 points and added two rebounds and two assists.
– Shawn Ferris
2A-7: Academy at the Lakes dominating
TAMPA ‑ The Academy at the Lakes defeated Cambridge Christian 54-25 in a dominating district final as Ethan Haslam scored 16 points.
Trailing by 31 points with two minutes left, Cambridge cleared its bench three seconds before the Academy (15-10), leading to its home loss.
The Wildcats played the Lancers twice this season, splitting the series.
Wildcats coach Tom Haslam said he made sure the proper defensive adjustments were made this time around.
“Our defense was spectacular,” he said. “It kind of led us to our offense and we’re a feeding-frenzy type team when we get going.”
– Adam Fenster