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WESLEY CHAPEL — For the second Saturday in a row, Wharton entered the fourth quarter on the road against a formidable Tampa Bay area opponent with an eight-point advantage.
Last week, the Wildcats were outscored 23-7 by Seminole in the final quarter for only their third loss of the season.
Saturday against Wiregrass Ranch in the fourth game of the Ulrich Family Classic, Wharton weathered the Bulls' frenetic, uptempo style to pull away for an 86-72 victory.
The way Wharton played didn't exactly draw praise from coach Tommy Tonelli.
The game's quick pace resulted in an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers and 27 fouls for Wharton. The Bulls were whistled for 26 fouls themselves and turned the ball over 22 times.
"The style that (the Bulls) play creates that kind of a game, but I thought we kind of played into the way they wanted to play and not the way we typically play," Tonelli said.
Wiregrass Ranch (11-8) may have forced Wharton (18-3) out of its rhythm, but the Wildcats proved they can run-and-gun. A seven-point run late in the first quarter gave the Wildcats a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Wharton was ahead 23-13 after one quarter and held that 10-point advantage at halftime 45-35.
Every time the Bulls made a run in the second half, the Wildcats responded. The Bulls' Christian Parra hit a field goal and a free throw with under a minute left in the third quarter to cut Wharton's lead to 62-54, but the Wildcats' Sir Patrick Reynolds (14 points) started the fourth by converting a three-point play on a layup and a foul. Three more times, the Bulls were able to cut the lead to single digits, but each time Wharton answered.
Still, it's unlikely Tonelli will be eager to watch the video.
"This game was like going to the YMCA and playing a pickup game, and that's not what we're about," he said.
Jaken Grier had 21 points for the Wildcats, and sophomore forward Chase Litton added 20 points and six rebounds.
Rico Kerney scored 25 to keep the Bulls close and grabbed 14 rebounds. Parra also had 25 points for Wiregrass Ranch.
Clearwater 77, Bloomingdale 65: Senior guard Harvey Adams scored 18 to lead the Tornadoes.
Ridgewood 50, Seminole 47: Adam Ibrahim and Tony Hays each contributed 10 points for the Rams in a narrow win.
Land O'Lakes 58, Freedom 54: Gators hold on in the fourth quarter behind a team-high 18 points from Ernest McClendon.