Wharton's rallies fall short

Turnovers and Lake Howell's long-range shooting doom the Wildcats.

Published February 25, 2007

WINTER PARK - When the national anthem failed to play on cue before Wharton's showdown against Lake Howell, the throng of Wildcats students who drove two hours for the game improvised, leading the standing-room-only audience in an a cappella version.

But in the end, all the patriotism, passion and pre-arranged spirit chants - which often drowned out the noise of the home fans - couldn't quite push the third-ranked Wildcats to the upset they seemed poised to pull off at a few fleeting junctures Saturday night.

Thwarted by turnovers at critical moments, not to mention the long-range proficiency of University of Florida signee Nick Calathes 31 points, Wharton (29-2) watched its best season end with a 70-59 loss to Lake Howell (28-3) in the 5A region finals.

The Wildcats' consolation: No other team from Florida has come closer to defeating the Silver Hawks, who led by only five late in the third quarter.

"I told them if I'm lucky enough at any point in the rest of my coaching career to coach a group of guys as special as them, as committed to playing the right way that they are, I'll be a very lucky coach," Wildcats coach Tommy Tonelli said.

Wharton never led, and trailed 20-9 after one quarter. But the Wildcats cut their deficit to as little as three in the second quarter and five in the third.

But every Wharton rally seemed to get snuffed by a turnover or 3-pointers.

In the second quarter, 'Cats senior guard Anthony Gomez made a layup to cut Lake Howell's lead to 24-21, but the Hawks responded with 3-pointers from guard Joey Rodriguez (19 points) and Calathes for a 30-23 edge.

In the third, Adam Noble and Shawn Vanzant (20 points) sank back-to-back 3-pointers during an 8-2 run to cut Lake Howell's lead to 47-42. Calathes, however, followed by converting consecutive backcourt steals into layups.

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com.