'Tis the midseason
By JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
Published December 26, 2007
Maybe it's the fact football season just ended. Or that it has felt like winter around here for only about 30 minutes. In any case, it hardly seems like we're already halfway through the local prep basketball season. Once holiday tournaments wrap up, most teams will have played a dozen or so games, and some of them have been doozies with dazzling performances - and surprise emergences. Here's a look at what we deem the best of the season's opening half.
Midseason boys MVP: Luke Loucks, Sr., Clearwater
Quite simply, the 6-foot-5 FSU signee has been the best player on the area's best team. In an eight-point win Friday against previously undefeated Ridgewood, Loucks (13.6 ppg) scored 19 and created seemingly as many scoring chances for his teammates. "That's why he's going where he's going," Rams coach Gary Anders said.
Midseason girls MVP: Sasha Chaplin, Sr., St. Petersburg Catholic
An Indiana signee, Chaplin (18.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg) recorded consecutive double doubles in mid-December victories against Hillsborough County powers Tampa Catholic (see Best Performances) and Academy of the Holy Names.
Best boys games:
- Ridgewood 70, Land O'Lakes 69 (Dec. 11 at Ridgewood)
With his team's undefeated record less than 20 seconds from being smudged out, Rams senior guard Mike Lawrence weaved his way downcourt and into the Gators' lane for the winning layup with seven seconds to play. We've since discovered Lawrence was playing with a badly bruised hand.
- Armwood 76, Freedom 72 OT (Nov. 26 at Freedom)
Down by 15 with 21/2 minutes to play in regulation, the Hawks staged one of the most furious rallies in recent memory behind 6-foot-5 point guard Adam Sollazzo (see Best Performances), who finished with 39 points.
- Chamberlain 62, Plant 57 4OT (Dec. 21 at Tampa Prep)
Chamberlain coach Doug Aplin only assumed he had seen it all in his 30 years on the Chiefs bench. In this semifinal of the City of Tampa Championship, he witnessed his first four-overtime game. Previously unbeaten Plant led by six (with 1:05 to play) in the second overtime and four in the third before Chamberlain rallied. A pair of free throws from senior Dantavis Adkins (23 points) with 26 seconds to play in the fourth OT finally iced it.
Best girls games:
- St. Petersburg 57, Sickles 55 (Dec. 14 at Sickles)
Three weeks after a 14-point loss to the unbeaten Gryphons, St. Petersburg appeared destined for a similar fate in the rematch. Sickles led by three in overtime, but the Devils again stormed back, winning on Jazmyne Green's layup at the buzzer.
- Academy of the Holy Names 58, Tampa Catholic 57 (Nov. 28 at Holy Names)
News of the Jaguars' rebuilding season was greatly exaggerated, as TC discovered. Leading by a point with 12.5 seconds to play, the Crusaders missed the front end of a one-and-one, setting up Katie Davis' layup with four seconds to play.
- Boca Ciega 52, Lakewood 48 (Nov. 27 at Lakewood)
No team has come closer to challenging the Pirates than Lakewood, which got a 25-point effort from senior Kerah Nelson. The Spartans led by three at halftime, but Nelson managed only four second-half points.
Who are these guys?
Okay, their district isn't nearly as solid as your aunt's fruitcake, but the Springstead Eagles are performing far beyond our expectations. Despite losing nine seniors and their coach from last season's 23-6 squad, the Eagles (11-1) are flourishing under 55-year-old Pat Kelly, who has more than 560 coaching wins in three states.
Who are these girls?
Apparently, we're not the only ones who have been blindsided by Tampa Bay Tech (15-0), which has defeated 13 teams by double-digit margins. Senior Andrea Bridges (15.1 ppg, 2.5 spg) was the lone returning starter from last season's eight-win team, but Blake sophomore transfers Re Re Jenrette (6.4 assists) and Dd Davis (11.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) have provided other dimensions.
Best boys performances:
- Adam Sollazzo, Armwood(vs. Freedom, Nov. 26)
For one magical night against the Patriots, this senior Hawk was a ball hawk - in a good sense. The 6-foot-5 point guard scored 15 of his 39 in the last eight minutes to rally Armwood from a 15-point deficit for a 76-72 overtime triumph.
- Dante Valentine, Springstead(vs. Hernando, Nov. 30)
The Eagles junior point guard scored 41, including four 3-pointers, in an 89-51 rout of county rival Hernando. Defensively, Valentine had seven takeaways for an Eagles defense that tallied 19 steals.
- Cam Carden, Pinellas Park(vs. Largo, Dec. 18)
We know, we know, Jake Troyli had a game-high 27 in this 81-48 Patriots romp, but Carden's effort was as valiant as Troyli's was prolific. Recovering from strep throat, Carden tallied a double double (15 points, 11 assists, four steals) in a game that helped quiet skeptics who claimed Pinellas Park hadn't played anyone.
Best girls performances:
- Sasha Chaplin, St. Petersburg Cath. (vs. Tampa Catholic, Dec. 11)
Facing one of Hillsborough County's best teams, Chaplin tallied 31 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in a 63-46 romp. Eleven of her points came at the free-throw line.
- Kayli Keough, Land O'Lakes(vs. Ridgewood, Dec. 11)
Seven days after a humbling double-digit loss to Wesley Chapel (the Gators' only defeat), this 6-foot-2 FSU signee made a statement that spanned the entire stat book: 20 points, eight rebounds, seven steals and seven blocks in a 45-34 triumph.
- Charlet Davis, Freedom(vs. Tampa Bay Tech, Nov. 16)
Though her team lost this game 62-51, Davis delivered an astounding performance against an undefeated squad. The final numbers for the 5-foot-7 senior: 26 points, 14 rebounds and six steals.
Boys second-half story lines:
- Rams to riches? Armed with his best assemblage of talent, Gary Anders, the veteran Ridgewood coach, will pursue his first state title.
- Pinellas supremacy: The best team in Pinellas County should be determined next month, when Clearwater, Pinellas Park and Lakewood play one another at least once.
- The Bucs stop ... in Lakeland? Berkeley Prep, which has four players with double-figure scoring averages, will make a serious run at the program's first state title.
Girls second-half story lines
- Spartans-Pirates, part deux: The rematch of the Nov. 27 meeting (see Best Games) is Jan. 8.
- Life after Sthefany: When Sthefany Thomas - the best player in Wesley Chapel history - graduated, the assumption was the Wildcats would suffer at least a slight dropoff. But Warren Jones' team (9-1) appears it has the balance to make a longer playoff run than it did with the Clemson signee.
- Charting Chaplin:We're waiting to see if anyone is capable of stopping St. Petersburg Catholic's imposing star.