District boys basketball: Wharton gets another shot at Sickles
TAMPA – Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli watched the second game of the Class 8A, District 8 semifinals Wednesday from the bleachers. If he thought he’d seen something similar previously, he had.
Top-seeded Sickles and No. 2 Wharton turned in carbon-copy performances and advanced to Friday’s showdown for the championship at Sickles. Suffocating defenses for an extended time – beginning in the second quarter – and subsequent big spurts enabled both teams to turn relatively tight games into solid victories.
Sickles (22-4) held fifth-ranked Freedom (10-12) to only one field goal in 15 minutes while scoring 18 consecutive points to win 44-32. Wharton (20-4) limited No. 3 Wiregrass Ranch (20-7) to only one made basket in 23 attempts during a 12-minute span, and went on a 23-5 run in a 60-39 victory.
Sickles defeated Wharton by a combined 38 points this season in the teams’ two previous meetings, but Gryphons coach Renaldo Garcia anticipates a tough test Friday.
"Wharton looked good (Wednesday),’’ Garcia said. “They’ve been playing extremely well the last few weeks, so we expect a huge challenge.’’
Sickles pulled away from Freedom after the Patriots had rallied within 26-20 in the first minute of the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Chase Creasy (11 points). Bryce Beamer, who led the Gryphons with 16 points, hit three of his four treys during the 18-0 run. Denari Garrett (13 points) started the outburst with his second dunk of the game. Freedom missed 13 of 14 shots during its cold spell.
“Bryce Beamer did a good job of keeping the pressure on (Freedom’s) defense throughout the second half,’’ Garcia said. “From the second quarter on, we did a really good job defensively. (Freedom) tried to slow the pace down – I thought they did a really good job of that – that affected our offense somewhat. I thought we made enough plays down the stretch.’’
Sickles was limited to 34 shots, making 18 (53 percent). Freedom shot 33 percent.
Wharton and Wiregrass Ranch were tied at 20 in the second quarter when the Wildcats clamped down. A 3-pointer by Dae’Son Barnes (24 points, 17 in the first half) put Wharton in front for good as the Wildcats scored 23 of the next 28 points. Wharton held Wiregrass Ranch to 23 percent shooting.
"Once we got that lead, I wanted (Wiregrass Ranch) to prove that they could make shots,’’ Tonelli said. “Other than No. 23 (Elijah Howell), I didn’t think they had guys that could make shots. So we were able to get to the zone a little bit (and) they started pressing in terms of taking bad shots. That played into our hands, and helped us extend our lead.’’
Isaiah Thomas added 12 points for Wharton and Darin Green had 11. Devin Wilson led Wiregrass Ranch’s scorers with eight.
"Sickles has taken it to us twice this year,’’ Tonelli said. “I know they’re an outstanding team and are well coached. We’re going to get after it and compete.’’