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Mustangs get back on track

Tuesday's blowout win against Wesley Chapel shows Mitchell isn't the team that opened with a loss to Ridgewood.

By IZZY GOULD
Published December 2, 2005

TRINITY - A win in late November won't win the Sunshine Athletic Conference.

Mitchell certainly wasn't convinced based on its play Tuesday night in a 57-40 win against Wesley Chapel.

Andy Schmitz, the Mustangs' third-year coach, kept private the praise he shared with his players during a brief postgame address behind closed doors.

He did reveal a pregame thought: Defeating the Wildcats was a must.

Mitchell needed resuscitation after a 55-52 opening-night loss at Ridgewood. It also had to prevent falling two games behind in the SAC race at 0-2.

And it certainly couldn't let Wesley Chapel - considered by many one of the top teams alongside Mitchell - hold any conference tiebreaker.

Regardless of Thursday's result against Land O'Lakes (to be played after press time), Mitchell's 17-point win against Wesley Chapel sent a jolt across the county.

"This one was to let everyone from the outside looking in know we're not overrated," Mitchell senior D.J. Crosby said. "We have a tough schedule this year. It's competition. That's what we love."

Schmitz has plenty of early concerns. Six of Mitchell's first nine games are on the road. Five are conference games, and three are within Class 6A, District 7.

"I'm looking for some Eastern Tennessee State team, some cupcake," Schmitz said. "They're aren't any of those."

Instead, Mitchell must believe in its abilities rather than identifying cracks in the schedule.

Stopping Wesley Chapel was a confidence boost.

The Mustangs did it with a motion offense designed to get everyone involved, equal touches and, theoretically, equal shots.

That was evident Tuesday in Mitchell's scoring line. Five Mustangs scored in double figures, making it tough for the Wildcats to focus on any one player.

"That's when we're at our best," Schmitz said. "Our starting five are capable of putting up 15 to 20 points. If any one person scores 25, everyone else has a tendency to sit around and watch."

There's no superstar on Mitchell's roster capable of hypnotizing crowds with strong moves to the basket.

Schmitz relies on good old blue-collar grit and senior experience. Ten of the Mustangs' 13 players are seniors. And they've taken their lumps.

Some recall the early days during Schmitz's first season. A loss against Land O'Lakes stood out and changed Mitchell's offseason attitude.

"We've been small for the last couple of years," Mitchell forward Mitch Foster said. "We finally got into a lineup where we're basically bigger than everyone else. We match up better that way. Back when I was a sophomore, (Land O'Lakes was) always bigger than me, and I always got pushed around by Drew (Weatherford) and all them."

Said Crosby, "Land O'Lakes was physical. I think that's something we were lacking. That was growing pains. That's over. Now we're looking to push other guys around. We're a tight-knit group."

Mitchell devoted plenty of free time to offseason conditioning, weightlifting and summer basketball.

The result: a solid frontcourt capable of banging bodies, scrapping for loose balls, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. And a backcourt patient and tenacious with the ability to drive past defenders or steal passes. Tie that in with experience, a familiarity with Schmitz's philosophy and you have the components for a powerful team capable of challenging for conference and district titles.

Just ask Wesley Chapel.

"That's what they're capable of doing," Schmitz said. "You can attribute the first game to whatever; maybe some overconfidence or early-season rust.

"They were embarrassed. But they motivate themselves." Contact Izzy Gould at 813 909-4612 or sportsjournalist@

gmail.com. [Last modified December 2, 2005, 12:55:11]


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