© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2002
The two best players, the two best teams, the two best coaches, the two longest current winning streaks, the two highest-ranked teams and a sellout crowd.
Yes indeed, Saturday's Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship was loaded.
And when it was over, there was just one best team, one team sure to retain its high ranking, and one champion: Lakewood.
The Spartans only needed one of their trademark spurts to take control in the second quarter, then held off a gutsy Largo rally to win the PCAC title 80-68, their 14th consecutive victory.
Lakewood (27-2) ended any debate -- and there really wasn't much -- about who was the county's best team by beating the Packers, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, just two days after beating 5A No. 4 Boca Ciega.
The Spartans are the first back-to-back PCAC champs since Boca Ciega beat Clearwater in 1994 and '95.
"It's always good to be champion," said Lakewood coach Dan Wright, who won his fifth PCAC title. "This is something we take pride in, being the best in the county."
As for the battle between the county's top two players, Largo's Billy McDade scored 26 points and kept his team in the game with 16 in the second half, while Lakewood's Marcus Morrison scored 20 in an otherwise spotty performance.
Throw in the point guards -- Largo's Mike O'Donnell (16 points) and Lakewood's Kevin Dorsey (20 points) -- and a strong case could be made for the game showcasing the county's best four players.
But the Spartans just had too many weapons on defense, forcing a dozen crucial turnovers leading directly to momentum-swinging baskets.
Ranked third in 4A and No. 1 in the state regardless of classification by break-down.com, Lakewood used a 16-4 run to take a 37-28 lead into the third quarter. "We let them get that run. Up to that point, we were playing the style of game we wanted," said Largo coach Phil Price, whose team saw its 12-game winning streak end. "I expect some turnovers, but if we just eliminated the dumb turnovers ... we were in the game."
Largo (25-3) failed to get closer than eight until four minutes were left in the game. O'Donnell and Bill Richardson hit 3-pointers and Fred Marshall had a layup to pull Largo within 67-64 with 2:50 remaining.
But just more than a minute later, the Spartans' lead was back to double figures as Dorsey and Morrison hit shots and O'Donnell missed twice.
NOTE: Saturday's PCAC title game will be shown tonight at 9 p.m. on Time Warner channel 47.