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Basketball: Plant City girls, Plant boys off to hot starts

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Tue. December 2, 2014 | Kelly Parsons and Bob Putnam

When Plant City’s girls basketball season began, the Raiders admitted to coach Wilt Wilkerson they were a little disappointed. 

“The girls were upset that there wasn’t a lot of talk about them in the papers when the season started,” Wilkerson said. “I told them ‘Hey, we haven’t earned the right.’ ”

A year ago, Plant City finished 11-13, 5-5 in a tough Class 7A, District 7. In fact, the last time the Raiders finished with a winning record was during the 2007-08 season. 

Already, the newest Plant City team has begun to change that reputation. 

The Raiders (6-0, 2-0) have won their first six games by a margin of 353-134. Returning starters Lacey Hargrove and Shayna Lawrence are averaging 12.2 and 11 points per game, respectively. 

But much to Wilkerson’s delight, this team is entirely different from last year’s.

Wilkerson said he has seen vast improvements in Hargrove, who is taking her sophomore season more seriously. Guard Avery Brown has returned to the Raiders after missing last season to focus on softball, and she’s already averaging 11.2 points per game.

Plant City is on a roll, but the Raiders’ biggest test to date will be Thursday against Strawberry Crest. The Chargers (5-0, 1-0) are last season’s district champions. That matchup, Wilkerson said, will be a chance for his girls to show just how far they’ve come.

“We want to show people we’re for real,” he said, “and when we get our chance against the powerhouses in the county, we’ve got to bring it.”

Cardiac Panthers

Plant’s boys basketball team (3-1) has a knack for pulling out one-point games. Last week, the Panthers had a strong start before holding off a late rally to beat rival Jesuit 43-42. Plant followed that up by surviving another thriller in a 62-61 win over Alonso in a key Class 8A, District 7 contest.

“I don’t have much of a voice left after these last two games,” coach Michael Slonaker said.

Finishing out close games was not Plant’s forte last season. The Panthers were 19-7 and blew second-half leads in five games. 

“If you stopped the clock with about three minutes left in each game last season we would have been 24-2,” Slonaker said. “We just had a hard time closing out games.”

The difference this season has a lot to do with experience. Ten of the 14 players on Plant’s roster are seniors, including Tyler Beale, Sam Schobben and Jalen Williams. 

Beale, a 6-foot-10 center, had 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shots against Alonso. Schobben has been a consistent scorer. And Williams is playing well after returning from a torn meniscus.

“I don’t think we’re playing as well as we can,” Slonaker said. “But we’re finding ways to win and that’s been the most encouraging thing.” 

The Panthers play at district foe Newsome on Thursday. 

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