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Mitchell earns first district championship

Published February 22, 2004

TRINITY - The firsts keep rolling in for Pasco County's newest public high school. Second-seeded Mitchell won its first district title, 51-44, over top-seeded Land O'Lakes in Saturday night's Class 5A, District 5 final.

It is the fourth-year school's first boys basketball district championship and first trip to the playoffs.

"This is just absolutely huge," said first-year coach Andy Schmitz. "It's just been a great success story for Mitchell athletics.

"Our two soccer teams won (district titles), and these guys felt a little left out so they were just fired up."

But the host Mustangs didn't look that way until the second quarter. The Gators controlled the first and led by 10 at the start of the second, thanks to nine points from Drew Weatherford.

But Mitchell won the second 17-3, tying it at 19 on an 11-0 run. A Ron Lafleur 3-pointer and three free throws from Mitch Foster in the last 1:42 gave their side a six-point halftime lead.

Chris Harvey's 3-pointer with 52.3 seconds left in the third tied it at 30, but Mitchell never trailed again. D.J. Crosby's trey capped a 14-5 run that extended the lead to 10 with 2:34 left.

The Gators got within two when Jon Wolaver put back a missed trey with 52.8 seconds left. But Foster rebounded and scored his missed free throw to make the lead six with 7.2 seconds left.

Two weeks ago the Gators (15-11) completed a season sweep of the Mustangs (16-9), winning by 18 on the same court. Saturday Mitchell won the fourth 21-14. The difference? Defense. Mitchell switched from man to zone and Land O'Lakes struggled.

"We just didn't have any defensive intensity," Gators coach Dave Puhalski said. "If you can't play defense in a championship game you're not going to beat anybody."

A Polk County upset set up Thursday's region quarterfinal playoffs. Mitchell hosts 5A-6 runner-up Haines City. The No.1 seed lost 51-47 to No.2 Lake Region, which hosts Land O'Lakes.

[Last modified February 22, 2004, 01:45:26]

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