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CLASS 3A: Miami Monsignor Pace executes Wesley Chapel's hectic style of basketball better than the Wildcats in a 69-48 victory.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2003


LAKELAND -- In two seasons, 52 victories, 12 losses, two district titles, two region crowns and two state semifinal appearances, Wesley Chapel has faced nearly every kind of team one can imagine.

Bigger teams. Taller teams. More athletic teams. More physical teams. Higher-ranked teams. Better teams.

But Wednesday, the Wildcats faced a foe unlike any other: Themselves.

Sixth-ranked Wesley Chapel (27-4) fell 69-48 in its second trip to the Class 3A semifinals at the Lakeland Center, losing to fifth-ranked Miami Monsignor Pace (29-5), which played Wildcats basketball better than they can.

"I can't explain it," senior Greg Harrison said. "We worked so hard to get back to Lakeland. We finally got back and we couldn't make it to the state championship."

Sure, the Spartans were bigger, lining up at 6 feet, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 and 6-5. Sure, they were more athletic. But they were faster, too. They played at a frenetic pace that was a step, maybe two, ahead of Wesley Chapel the whole night. They pressed. They passed. They ran the floor. They buried 3-point shots. They chased after loose balls and crashed the boards.

All the things Wesley Chapel prided itself on, Monsignor Pace did better. It was as if the Spartans had three or four extra players on the court. The Spartans flew to the basket, again and again and again, taking a double-digit, 14-3 lead with 4:30 left in the first quarter and sprinting for the finish, a 36-18 halftime lead.

Wesley Chapel coach Kent Mills compared this game to a December loss to No. 4 Orlando Jones, which won the early semifinal 59-57 over Panama City Bay.

"Orlando Jones presses for 32 minutes too but we handled that better then than we did now," Mills said. "Jones was a great team and we shot it well against Jones. Presses usually don't bother us.

"But they say you can't win a basketball game in the first quarter, but you can lose it and we certainly put ourselves in a position to lose it again, just like (St. Augustine) Nease (in last season's semifinals)."

The Spartans' relentless defense harassed the Wildcats under the basket and along the perimeter, holding them to 16 of 62 shooting from the field and 6 of 27 from 3-point range. Wesley Chapel didn't get a field goal until 41 seconds were left in the first on Chase Bussey's 3-pointer.

"Other than Jones that was the fastest team we've faced," senior forward Harrison said. "This is the first time that a team ran at us, usually we're the ones that run at them."

Compounding those first-half problems was the fact that Harrison and Tyrone Tomlin spent considerable minutes on the bench in foul trouble. That allowed Monsignor Pace to collapse on center David Simpson inside, holding the Wildcats' leading scorer to 0-for-7 from the field and one point.

The second half was the same, more NASCAR than basketball.

For the first time in 67 games, no Wildcat was in double figures. Zach Mills' eight points led the team while the Spartans' Josue Vasquez scored 18 and Alex Smith had 12.

"I'm just trying to hold it together right now," said Mills, who resigned as coach earlier this season and will move to Indiana on Sunday. "I look at all of these guys and they're a part of my family."

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