Boys 5A-8 hoops: Wharton senior key to dramatic victory

Published February 9, 2008

TAMPA - Wharton senior Anthony Manuel said his former teammates ribbed him often this season, when the defending region finalists had fallen to 2-9.

"I got a lot of calls - lot of jabs," Manuel said with a grin. "But they knew we'd be okay."

Manuel, a 6-foot-4 swingman, helped make sure of that. The Wildcats have won 11 of their past 12, but none more dramatic than Friday's 56-46 double-overtime win over Bloomingdale in the Class 5A, District 8 semifinals.

Once up 12, the Wildcats trailed by three with 10 seconds left in regulation. But with a hand in his face, Manuel sank a tying 3-pointer to force overtime and help send Wharton to tonight's final against No. 1 seed Brandon.

"It was the biggest shot of my career," said Manuel, who finished with 13 points.

Ninety seconds earlier, Bulls senior Jahmaal Jones felt the same way. The stocky guard had capped off an improbable 11-0 run in the final two minutes with a 3-pointer. But, as Bulls coach Josh Chapin said, "We were one shot away."

The Wildcats get another shot at Brandon after the Eagles' 69-50 win over Armwood in the other semifinal. Hawks senior Adam Sollazzo 12 points and Sam Gibson (14) helped give Armwood a second-quarter lead. But Brandon fueled its transition game with stifling man-to-man defense, going on a 14-0 run to help pull away. Brandon's big four - forward Evan Ravenel (13), Marcus Morrison (15) and guards Blake Allen (12) and Tarron Stewart (17) - led the way.

Joe Smith can be reached atjoesmith@sptimes.com or at(813) 310-9024.