ST. PETERSBURG — A week ago, Gibbs and Boca Ciega battled in an epic game on the Gladiators’ homecourt that ended in a 71-66 overtime victory by the Pirates. The teams, along with everyone at the Northeast Christmas Invitational, expected a rematch in the tournament final today.
Everyone, that is, except the tournament host.
The Vikings, behind a stellar performance by senior forward Andres Sanchez, led from the start against the Gladiators and pulled out a 67-60 victory. He hit 12-of-16 field goals in scoring a game-high 29 as Northeast beat Gibbs for the first time in more than five years. It set up a championship meeting with Boca Ciega, a 70-54 winner over Calvary Christian.
“It’s pretty huge,” said Sanchez, who had 12 rebounds. “Everyone’s been talking about Gibbs and Bogie being the powers of Pinellas County. We just felt like we had something to prove. We knew they had the size, they could shoot, and get up and down the floor. The key was playing good defense, disrupting their (three-pointers), and executing our offense.”
The Vikings (6-6) did that and more, beating the Gladiators (7-3) to one loose ball after another, in addition to outrebounding the taller and more athletic Gibbs squad 32-19, including 14 offensive boards. It was a marked improvement from when Northeast lost to Gibbs 62-40 Dec. 7, when the Vikings held a four-point lead in the third quarter before being outscored 33-7 the rest of the game.
“That’s been the tale of the last two weeks for us,” coach Larry Murphy said of the Gladiators, who have lost three of the past four after starting the season with six straight wins. “There’s just no pride on defense. It’s disappointing because we have seven seniors on our team.”
After Northeast ended the first quarter with a 22-9 lead and stretched it to a 15-point lead at the beginning of the second quarter on a jumper by Jimmie Harris, Gibbs stormed back with a 11-0 run over the first four minutes of the second quarter.
Sanchez ended the drought with a layup and, after Gibbs cut the deficit to four a few minutes later, the Vikings would enter halftime with a 34-27 lead on Adam Barker’s scooping layup.
Sanchez would score 10 of the Vikings’ 15 points in the third quarter as Northeast ended the period with a 49-36 lead. The closest the Gladiators would get the rest of the way was six points, which occurred with 25 seconds left on Devante Miley’s layup.
“We handled the pressure well and finished the game with composure,” Northeast coach Dave Redding said. “Our kids get after it and they were pesky from the start. We haven’t beaten a quality team yet so this is a good win.”
Augustus Sanchez added 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Vikings and Barker finished with 10 points and 11 assists. Quincy Ford led the Gladiators with 19 points.
In the nightcap, Boca Ciega earned a lackluster win over Calvary Christian in which the teams exchanged leads seven times before the Pirates took the lead for good on a layup by D.J. White in the second quarter. The sophomore guard was fouled and made the free throw for a 20-18 edge. The Pirates finished the half with a 35-28 lead.
The Warriors (7-3) cut the deficit to 49-45 at the end of the third period. Boca Ciega (10-0) put the game away at the beginning of the fourth with a 10-0 run behind Kyonn Smith’s two baskets to build a 61-47 lead.
“They played a triangle-and-two on (Kenny Smith and Dallas Moore) and it affected us for a while,” said Kyonn Smith, who finished with 20 points. “In the second half, we clamped down on (Calvary 6-foot-9 center Kyle Wiedinger) and we created easy transition opportunities.”
White scored 17 and had 12 assists for the Pirates and Moore finished with 14 points, while Kenny Smith was held to a season-low seven points. Alex Govan had a team-high 20 points for the Warriors and Wiedinger scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half.