NEW PORT RICHEY — Wesley Chapel has prided itself on being a second-half team.
Wednesday night’s 73-47 win over River Ridge clarified its identity: The Wildcats have become a dominant third-quarter team.
Wesley Chapel outscored the Royal Knights by 15 in the period and pulled away with a 12-0 run to turn a competitive game between two of Pasco County’s top players into a rout.
“That was probably the turning point,” said Wildcats coach Doug Greseth, who recorded his 400th career victory this week with a win over Zephyrhills.
And it started with defense. After back-to-back buckets by John Childs and Damion Hicks cut Wesley Chapel’s lead to 33-28, the Wildcats pulled away.
Standout senior Erik Thomas followed a pair of free throws with a putback. Then he converted one of his seven steals into a layup as part of his personal 8-0 run that sapped momentum from River Ridge (7-5). Wesley Chapel’s defense forced 12 of the Royal Knights’ 30 turnovers in the third.
“We just came out strong in the third quarter,” said Thomas, who finished with a game-high 34 points to go with 13 rebounds and two blocks.
The Wildcats also earned the victory by shutting down Childs, the Division I recruit who entered the game averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. He mustered only 12 and 7 Wednesday.
Greseth credited swirling defense from guards Brian Rodriguez, Stefan Bayne and Carson Emery plus the recent return of 6-foot-7 post player Marcus Hayne for denying Childs the ball.
“Now we’ve got two big post players inside,” Greseth said. “That makes all the difference in the world.”
If the final score weren’t enough, Thomas made one more statement late. After another steal, he trotted down the court for one of his two dunks on the night.
River Ridge tried to answer the next play, but an alley-oop to Childs hit the backboard — and started another Wildcats fastbreak.
Mike Jones led the Royal Knights with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Hicks chipped in eight points. Emery contributed 14 points for the Wildcats, and Hayne recorded a double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.