TARPON SPRINGS — Of the hundreds of maroon-clad fans who packed Tarpon Springs’ gym Thursday, some were actually alive the last time the school won a playoff game. Just not many.
Now all have seen a playoff win.
Trai Halton scored 21 points and Scottie James scored 15 of his 20 in the second half as Tarpon beat Hernando 70-60 for its first playoff win since 1947. Tarpon had last hosted a postseason game in 1978.
“Phenomenal. I mean, 1947,” said Jerry Woodka, Tarpon’s coach of 18 years who had to sit down and gather himself after the victory.
The halftime sitdown won the game for Tarpon (27-3).
Hernando led 35-28 with help from a sizzling fastbreak cashing in on the Spongers’ 10 straight missed shots. Tarpon changed to a box-and-one defense, guarding Hernando’s leading scorer, Mark Wilson. Wilson scored one point in the quarter, going 0-for-5 from the field while the Leopards made only one of their first 14 shots.
On offense, Tarpon made six of its first eight shots, preventing Hernando from getting into its transition game.
“We didn’t want (a win) to slip away from us,” Halton said.
Halton’s five points helped the Spongers even the game less than two minutes into the half and were part of an 18-1 run that put them up 46-36. Damarian Gulley had five of his team-high seven assists during the third.
Two late third-quarter baskets and a 3-pointer by Wilson to start the fourth got the Leopards to within 51-47.
But Halton and Mitch Wilcox keyed an 11-2 stretch that followed. Wilcox had a three-point play and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Besides the 15 points, James had five blocks and 10 rebounds in the second half. He disrupted a Hernando layup attempt on one end then scored on the other for a 66-54 lead with 2:30 remaining.
“We definitely had to stop their fastbreak,” James said. “We just came out and played hard in the second half.”
Woodka called Thursday’s atmosphere, “the best crowd I’ve ever seen here.”
Joel Wilson, a sophomore and Mark’s brother, scored a team-high 21 points for the Leopards (16-6). Mark Wilson scored 18, and Ra’shaad Hart had seven rebounds.
Fourteen of Joel Wilson’s points came in the first half as Hernando, which made its first postseason appearance in 10 seasons and whose only postseason win came in 1967, overcame an early 18-10 deficit.
Said coach Jeff Laing: “Couldn’t be prouder of the guys.”