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Rams handle Wildcats' press

Chris Halkitis scores 25 points to lead Ridgewood to the title in the regular-season finale.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2002

WESLEY CHAPEL -- So much for that debate.

No, not the Sunshine Athletic Conference championship. Ridgewood quieted any debate about that with Friday night's stunning 70-60 victory on Wesley Chapel's home court.

The Rams (23-5) swept the Wildcats (20-8) this season to win their sixth SAC title in an unprecedented game, the first time in the SAC's 11-year history the title has come down to a head-to-head season finale.

No, the real debate in Pasco County this season has been: Who is the most valuable player?

Emerging from a closely-contested field of deserving candidates Friday night, Ridgewood point guard Chris Halkitis made his case to the jury.

Halkitis led his team with 25 points and was a cool 16 of 17 from the free-throw line. He sank 11 consecutive free throws to start the game and scored 13 points in the second half.

"I've been on him a little bit this season, but he really came through tonight," Ridgewood coach Gary Anders said. "He played like a lead player should play."

But what impressed Halkitis the most was how he and his teammates handled the ball against Wesley Chapel's feared and fleet-footed press.

"This is big," Halkitis said. "We finally beat a team that pressed us all game long. I've been waiting for us to do that ever since the East Lake game last year."

That Jan. 9, 2001 loss has haunted Halkitis for more than a year. Ridgewood surrendered a big lead and then the game to East Lake's press.

But redemption came Friday.

The Rams held the lead throughout, pushing it to as much as 15 in the third quarter while sinking 31 of 35 free throws before a hostile crowd.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, made 7 of 15 free throws and committed 27 fouls.

"That killed us," Wesley Chapel coach Kent Mills. "That's just an example of what a confident and intense team can do. Coach Anders just stuck it to us tonight.

The Rams' ability to beat the Wildcats' press and pound the ball inside was a big key, exposing Wesley Chapel's weakness -- one made more glaring by the loss of forward Tyrone Tomlin early in the first quarter.

Tomlin went over a Ridgewood player's back and re-sprained the medial-collateral ligament in his right knee after a hard landing.

Wesley Chapel's Eric Sorensen buried a 3-pointer with two minutes, one second left in the first half to cut the lead to one. Halkitis then made three straight trips to the line, going 6 of 6 en route to a 34-27 halftime lead.

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