NEW PORT RICHEY — The semifinals of the 23rd annual William G. Hulton Jr. Ram Classic at Ridgewood featured one spectacular finish and one wire-to-wire win.
In the early game, Clearwater used its final possession to edge Bradenton Southeast 63-61 to advance to tonight’s championship game.
The difference for the Tornadoes (7-3) seemed to be in the paint. With center Matt Misner (game-high 25 points, nine rebounds, three blocks) coming into his own and Steven Bradford (13 points, seven rebounds, four assists) already one of the program’s standouts, Clearwater was able to control the interior.
“The last two games Matt has played tremendously well,” Clearwater coach Allen Carden said. “At 6-foot-10, he’s a college prospect from the neck down. It’s all about playing tough and smart.”
Even with that advantage, Southeast (4-4) led or was tied at the end of every quarter until the final buzzer. The Seminoles made nine 3-pointers, including six combined from Antonio Ray (23 points) and Markeene Jean (16).
The transition offense in the first half also led to big points as Southeast took advantage of 16 first-half Clearwater turnovers.
The fourth quarter was controlled by Clearwater, but the Seminoles got back into it with a 3 from Jean and a technical foul on Misner.
With the scored tied at 61, Cody Carden got the ball, drove baseline and floated in the winner as time expired.
“The last play was exactly what we wanted,” Allen Carden said. “Our execution was real good in the second half.”
The Tornadoes are used to close scores. In the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Classic this season, Clearwater lost to Nature Coast by two. In Wednesday’s first round of the Ram Classic, the Tornadoes won by only two over George Jenkins.
To end the night, East Lake cruised to an 85-56 victory over St. Petersburg Catholic.
Containing Barons star Ryan Green as best as they could, the Eagles (6-3) put on an exhibition from behind the 3-point arc. East Lake hit 10 3s with Jeremy Mogged leading the way with five 3s and 19 points.
Although Green tried to keep his squad close, his 26 points didn’t come easily. He had two dunks, but the majority of his total came from the free-throw line. The point guard went 14-for-17 at the charity stripe and also had five assists, but it wasn’t enough to keep St. Petersburg Catholic in the game down the stretch. The Eagles outscored the Barons 28-12 in the fourth quarter.
With wins over Anclote (6-2) and Brandon (3-7) respectively, George Jenkins (6-3) and Ridgewood (6-6) will play for fifth place this afternoon.