There was hardly a dull moment for bay area boys and girls basketball teams in a tournament-packed holiday season. There were down-to-the-wire finishes, clutch performances and season-defining wins over the break.
Berkeley Prep (14-1): No team has been hotter than the Buccaneers, who accomplished a rare feat by winning the prestigious Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Ocala. Berkeley Prep, the top-ranked team in the Class 4A state poll, went 4-0 in the tournament, including wins against defending Class 8A state semifinalist Deerfield Beach and Class 5A, No. 3 Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons in the final. Last week at their own tournament, the Bucs beat Miami Gulliver Prep before losing to defending 4A state champion Orlando Lake Highland Prep in a preview of what could be a state semifinal matchup later this season.
Bloomingdale (10-4): During the holiday break, the Bulls won four of five games, including three straight to win the Alonso tournament over the weekend. In that tournament, Bloomingdale beat Wesley Chapel 69-63, Robinson 80-72 and Armwood 71-61 in the championship. George Brammeier has been the Bulls’ go-to guy, averaging 17.2 points per game.
Largo (12-1): After starting the season 9-0 with mostly nondescript wins, the Packers — ranked No. 3 in the Class 6A state poll — were finally tested and fared well with wins against two other ranked teams. At the Naples Holiday Shootout, Largo beat 7A, No. 10 Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas 66-43 before losing to 3A defending state semifinalist Miami Westwood Christian 89-75. Last week, the Packers beat 6A, No. 10 Port Charlotte 69-41 at a shootout in Venice. Brandon Jones and Curtis Reed played well in both tournaments, but the most encouraging sign was Donavan Hale starting to heal from an ankle injury that limited him the past month. Guard Andrew Murphy, who had his appendix removed, will likely miss the next three weeks.
Palm Harbor University (10-6): One of the surprise teams in the bay area, the Hurricanes have already surpassed their win total from last season (8-18). PHU has gone on a tear the past two weeks, with a 47-46 victory over Admiral Farragut in the championship game of the Suncoast Classic at Keswick. Last week, PHU had its seven-game win streak snapped with a 64-57 loss to Osceola at its own tournament. The turnaround can be attributed in large part to the addition of Deandre Williams and Jake Danikowski. Williams, a 6-foot-7 post player, moved back from Kansas in August. Danikowski, a 6-5 guard, moved up from the JV squad this season. They have given the Hurricanes much-needed height and prevented opponents from focusing solely on sharpshooter Joe Pigozzo, who has twice hit eight 3-pointers in a game and has set the career school record for 3s with 120.
St. Petersburg (11-1): Three weeks ago, the Green Devils went to Tallahassee and beat two ranked teams, Class 7A, No. 4 Leon and Class 5A, No. 4 Rickards, to win the tournament title. St. Petersburg came home to play in the final of Northeast Holiday tournament and lost 50-49 to Wharton in the championship.
Tampa Catholic (12-5): The Crusaders played more than half their schedule in three tournaments during the break. At the City of Tampa Tournament, TC won three straight, including a 75-73 win over previously undefeated Tampa Prep in the final. Chivarsky Corbett, who scored 33 against the Terrapins, was named the tournament MVP. After three straight losses at the ultra-tough MaxPreps Holiday Classic, the Crusaders bounced back with two wins at the Berkeley Invitational .
Tampa Prep (12-2): The Terrapins went 6-2 in three tournaments. After the City of Tampa loss, the Terps beat the host Chargers to win the Shorecrest Holiday tournament. Juwan Durham was big in both tournaments, scoring 33 against Tampa Catholic and being named MVP of the Shorecrest tournament despite playing with a sprained thumb. The Terrapins rounded out tournament play by splitting two games at the Berkeley Invitational.
Tarpon Springs (16-2): Despite their stellar record, the Spongers were still looking for a signature win. They got it at the Nature Coast Christmas Invitational, beating the host Sharks 53-50 in the championship. Tarpon followed that up with wins against Indian Rocks Christian and Clearwater Central Catholic at the IRC holiday tournament. Scottie James was named MVP of both tournaments, and teammate Trai Halton was named to both all-tournament teams.
Wharton (13-2): The Wildcats barely slipped past a one-win Northeast team in the first round of the Northeast Holiday tournament, then looked average in a semifinal win over Boca Ciega. But against previously unbeaten St. Petersburg in the final, Wharton was nearly flawless in a 50-49 win. Jack Taylor, Chase Litton, Auden Tate and Scott Sollazzo were clutch throughout the tournament. Litton was named the tournament MVP.
East Lake (6-9): It hasn’t been the best season for the Eagles, but they get a little confidence after winning the Suncoast Classic at Keswick. East Lake got through Canterbury, St. John Neumann and Osceola in the championship. Emily Dine was especially sharp, scoring 19 points in the final, including five 3-pointers.
Northeast (16-6): The Vikings stayed home over the holidays and hosted the Northeast Invitational, beating East Bay, Wharton and Bloomingdale rather easily to claim the championship and extend its win streak to four games. Madison Schmidt scored 17 points in the championship against Bloomingdale and has proven to be one of the Vikings’ top threats under the basket. Emina Podzic played stifling defense, and Boca Ciega transfer Maddie Winningham has been a deft 3-point shooter.
Seffner Christian (11-3): The Crusaders held a four-team tournament before Christmas, defeating Charlotte and Kissimmee Osceola for the title. Against Charlotte, Seffner won 66-8 and led 59-7 at halftime. The championship game was closer, a 55-44 win. Seffner followed that tournament with a 1-2 record at the Landair Ladies Classic in Greenville, Tenn.
Sickles (14-4): The Gryphons won the sapphire division of the Queen of Palms. Cierra Wheatley was named the division’s MVP and Kassidy Girdler was also named to the all-tournament team. After cruising to wins over Palm Bay Heritage and North Miami, Sickles defeated Calloway County (Ky.) 56-49 for the title. Sickles also played in the IRC tournament and opened with a 41-31 loss to Sarasota before bouncing back with wins over Bloomingdale and Armwood.
Steinbrenner (19-2): The Warriors were busy over the break. They played in the Queen of Palms after Christmas and finished third in the pearl division with Courtney Hall named to the all-tourney team. The only blemish at the tournament was a four-point loss to Lakewood Ranch. The Warriors then won the Indian Rocks Christian tournament, beating Armwood, Calvary Christian and Sarasota. Against Calvary, it took a last-second tip-in by Hall to advance. Then came a 34-33 win over Sarasota in the final for Steinbrenner’s first holiday tournament championship.
Tampa Bay Tech (16-3): The Titans won the amber division at Queen of Palms, breezing through the tournament to handle Jensen Beach 63-42 in the final. Brianna Thomas, Kirtisha Nelson and Chyna Lindsay continue to play well for the Titans, who have won five straight.
Wiregrass Ranch (19-1): The Bulls toppled host Holy Names 51-39 to take the Jaguar Holiday Tournament title. Junior Amanda Melosky averaged 16.3 points and was named MVP. Teammates Logan Seoane and Stephanie Brower were on the all-tournament team as well.