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WESLEY CHAPEL -- This may have been one of the four best teams in Class 3A last season, but it was a team that could not win its county title.
This season Wesley Chapel is ranked No. 7 in the state 3A poll, but that doesn't mean the fight inside Pasco County's borders will be any easier for the Wildcats.
Mitchell proved that Saturday night, giving Wesley Chapel everything it could handle for three quarters before falling apart in the fourth in the Wildcats' 87-79 Sunshine Athletic Conference win.
The Mustangs held a 36-35 halftime lead after outscoring the home team 23-14 in the second quarter, and stifled the Wildcats' potent 3-point attack, limiting a team that was averaging 11 treys a game to 3-of-20 from long range.
But Wesley Chapel (4-0) rose to the challenge in that second half and Mitchell (3-2) lost its composure at critical junctures and lost several key starters to foul trouble. The Mustangs lost the lead, then fell backward.
Two technical fouls were called on Kyle Cregan in the third quarter and Danny Sheehan in the fourth for arguing calls. That punctuated a 6-point swing in the third and a 9-point swing in the fourth, and Mitchell already faced a deficit at both junctures.
"That was a big mistake on our part," Mitchell coach Dick Buckenroth said.
Without their usually reliable 3-point shooting game, the Wildcats had to rely on a new weapon, its post game. The addition of football star Tyrone Tomlin, back after tearing up his knee last basketball season, to David Simpson and Marcus Felder in the paint more than offset the troubled perimeter shooting.
"I think it was a good defensive effort," Wesley Chapel coach Kent Mills said. "What I'm happy about tonight is, you know the old motto 'Live by the three, die by three?' We could have died by the three, but tonight the post took care of itself."
Simpson scored 19 points, Tomlin nine and Stewart six. Point guard Zach Mills was 10-of-14 at the free-throw line in the fourth. Wesley Chapel's big three -- Simpson, Mills and Eric Sorensen -- all scored 19. Tomlin, it should be noted, was called for his own technical foul in the first half.
Jason Weaver had a big night, scoring 33. He had 10 in the first, eight in the second and 11 in the fourth. He was 10-of-10 at the line and sank a 3-pointer.
Jeremy Hopper had 21, dropping four treys. Cregan had eight.