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Faith Warriors prove first looks can be deceiving

Bayshore Christian, with no one taller than 6 feet 2, has run-and-gunned its way to tonight's regional final.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2001


TAMPA -- When Bayshore Christian walks into a gym before a game, you are not struck with the realization that you are looking at a basketball team. At least not a good one.

The Faith Warriors don't inspire fear with towering height. After all, their four tallest players are 6 feet 2.

They don't feature a player that opponents concentrate on shutting down in hopes of pulling out a win. And there isn't any of that flashy, in-your-face confidence that accompanies teams that have put up the kind of numbers Bayshore Christian has. "When we walk into the gym, people start laughing," Bayshore coach Tom Dibble said. "People don't take us seriously. We don't look like a typical basketball team. I mean, we don't have a center. We're not big. We're kind of pudgy. But, hey, that's okay with me."

It's okay because shortly after the game begins, Dibble is the one laughing as he watches his team run-and-gun, press and pester its way to another big win.

The Faith Warriors, who host Riviera Beach R.J. Hendley in a Class A regional final at 7:30 tonight, have a chance to advance to the state tournament for the fifth time since 1990. And they have a chance to do it in style.

Bayshore (32-3) not only has beaten its opponents this season, it has beaten them handily. The Faith Warriors averaged 92 points per game during the regular season, giving up less than 60. They have not lost a game to a Class A team. The three games they have lost -- to Berkeley Prep by two in overtime, Admiral Farragut by two at the buzzer and Bradenton Christian by one -- were by a total of five points, and they are undefeated at home.

Six times this season, Dibble has taken his starters out during the first quarter to keep from being accused of running up the score.

Bayshore has scored 100 points eight times, including the regional quarterfinal in which it beat Canterbury 134-52. Bayshore beat Canterbury by 81 during the regular season and 50 in the preseason.

"I think we might just have their number," Dibble said of Canterbury, trying to remain humble.

The Faith Warriors have four players -- Joseph Rawlins, Brandon Harrison, Kyle Knecht and Sam Smith -- averaging double figures in scoring. Those stats are a function of Bayshore's style of play. The Faith Warriors use a full-court press on defense and a run-and-gun offense that could be considered one of the most aggressive in the state.

"I believe in running the ball," Dibble said. "It puts fans in the stands. It's more exciting, and we're fortunate we've been able to do it successfully. I've been blessed with a really good team this year."

Actually, this season's team strongly resembles last season's team, which went 19-11. All nine players returned, and Bayshore benefitted when Harrison, a sophomore, transferred from Tampa Catholic one day before school started. But Harrison is an anomaly. Four of the 11 players have been at Bayshore since kindergarten, and three have attended since third, fourth and fifth grade, respectively. The difference this season is experience.

"We know how to find the open man," junior Jared Piazza said. "We play as a team. We're disciplined, and we're coached really well. We have the staff to do it and the talent."

Added Harrison: "We're real strong. Every player on the team could put up 20 points a night. I just thank God for giving me the opportunity to be able to come here."

Nobody, however, is taking a trip to the final four for granted. Hendley comes in with a big reputation and a lot of height. And, oh, they haven't lost to a Class A opponent either this season.

"The trick is to get to the final four," Dibble said. "Once you get there, everybody is 0-0 again. If you talk to many of the coaches around the state, they say the winner of this game is the favorite to win state.

"I don't know if that's true, but it's nice talk either way."

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