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ST. PETERSBURG -- The celebration told the story Monday night at Admiral Farragut.
Seconds after the Blue Jackets held off a comeback by Indian Rocks Christian, the players raced to midcourt to hoot and holler with their classmates. It was revelry typically reserved for district or even state titles. But for the Blue Jackets, this hullabaloo was well deserved.
In a season of blowout wins and perceived negligence on the part of voters in the state poll, Admiral Farragut beat a good Golden Eagle team 58-55, just an hour after the latest poll had the Blue Jackets re-entering at No. 7.
"Our only two losses are to Florida Air, one of the better teams in the state (and No. 1 in Class 2A) and a team ranked nationally in Canada," Admiral Farragut coach Mike Wells said, "and we're not even ranked in the state poll? That kind of thing doesn't matter to the coaches, but to the players it means a lot. The kids are motivated by it."
It took every bit of that motivation to win Monday. The Blue Jackets (20-2) used a 15-2 spurt to open the second quarter and grab a 10-point halftime lead that held up until the fourth, thanks to Elliot Anderson and John Whitehead, who combined to score 15 of their team's 19 points.
In protecting its lead, Admiral Farragut made only 8-of-31 second-half shots but enough of the big ones to hang on.
Down 10 entering the final period, Gabe McMillen scored twice on drives to cut the Farragut lead to 40-34. Two minutes later, McMillen hit two 3-pointers in a 20-second span, the second a fade-away from deep in the corner, to give the Golden Eagles a 45-44 lead with 4:41 remaining.
But Whitehead hit a 3-pointer to give the lead back to Admiral Farragut, and after Dan Hedger answered with his own 3, Bennie Clyde dropped in two free throws to put the Blue Jackets on top 49-48 with 2:39 left.
The Golden Eagles (17-5) had their chances, but could get no closer. Vitor Boccardo's putback with 2:15 left and six straight points by Whitehead -- including four free throws -- made it 58-52 with seven seconds left before McMillen added one final 3-pointer.
Whitehead finished with a team-high 19 points, 11 in the fourth quarter. McMillen led Indian Rocks with 26, 13 in the final period.
"We had a 10-point lead and then let it get away, and the one thing we told them was that we were not going to lay down," said Wells, whose team was held under 60 points for the first time this season. "We came back and took the lead back by what, six points? I thought that showed some class. I thought John Whitehead did a great job tonight."