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Team of six bests Panthers

Despite limited players, Miami Christian, the second-ranked team in Class A, defeats Plant 76-71.

By ROBYN DISNEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2002


TAMPA -- Heading into Saturday's game against Plant, Miami Christian coach Art Alvarez was concerned about his team. Center Ivan Lopez (6 feet 9) was out with a leg injury, leaving the coach with just six players.

TAMPA -- Heading into Saturday's game against Plant, Miami Christian coach Art Alvarez was concerned about his team. Center Ivan Lopez (6 feet 9) was out with a leg injury, leaving the coach with just six players.

The Victors filled the void and eased Alvarez's worries thanks to some unexpected performances.

Guard Jose Barea, the smallest player on the team at 5-11, and Sammy Hernandez, the team's only freshman, were the biggest contributors as Miami Christian defeated the Panthers 76-71 in the Tampa Roundball Classic at Tampa Catholic.

Barea had a game-high 29 points and Hernandez grabbed 14 rebounds.

"I thought we did good based on that we were only six players deep and that four kids played the entire game," Alvarez said. "I thought they sucked it up and played good on the defensive end when it counted."

But the win wouldn't be an easy one.

After Miami Christian, ranked No. 2 in Class A, built up a 52-38 lead, the Panthers (14-3) ended the third quarter with a 10-0 run started by a 3-pointer from Wayne Lawton. Plant, which ranks fourth in Class 4A, could have ended the third quarter down by two but Brad Birrenkott missed a pair of free throws. The rally didn't end there.

After Barea started the final quarter with a layup, Jonathan Seber nailed a 3-pointer to make the score 54-51. Miami Christian (21-2) got another basket, but Michael Williams, who led Plant with 21 points, hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two.

"I'm very proud of the way we played in the second half," Plant coach Mike Phillips said. "We questioned them about being a team at halftime. They have all the basics of a championship team, except they aren't a team yet. ... I'm very proud of the way they reacted to the situation."

But Plant wouldn't get any closer.

A 3-pointer from Plant's Tyler Azzarelli made the score 69-66, but the Victors would make seven of eight free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the win.

"We hit some crucial free throws down the stretch," Alvarez said. "But my hat's off to Tampa Plant. They gave us one of the toughest games all year long."

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