CLEARWATER — Tuesday marked the debut of Boca Ciega freshman D.J. White, the son of former Pirate standout and current assistant coach David White.
D.J. White started alongside Norman Williams, who came back to Boca Ciega after a year of playing at St. Petersburg Catholic, and Kyonn Smith, a transfer from New York.
The three provided an influx of talent. But the county axiom that resonates is that team needs experienced leaders to get past the premier teams.
So it was fitting that juniors Marquel Walton and Kenneth Smith provided the biggest boost in a 65-61 victory over Clearwater in the season opener for both teams.
"We're young and inexperienced," Pirates coach Randy Shuman said.
"We're taking baby steps and need a lot more practice time. I would have liked to have played this game later in the season, but there was no room on the schedule."
Actually, the early-season date benefited Boca Ciega, which did not have deal with Tornadoes forward Okaro White, who will miss the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle.
White's absence negated the height advantage Clearwater would have had. And the Pirates took advantage by using their athleticism to overcome a five-point deficit in the first quarter to go up 46-38 at the start of the fourth.
The Tornadoes, led by the inside scoring of John Hogan, took the lead with 2:36 remaining but couldn't hold on as Walton and Smith made clutch free throws.
Walton and Williams each scored 20 and Smith added 11 to lead Boca Ciega. Hogan had a game-high 28 for Clearwater.
"I thought the guys would play with a chip on their shoulder to show they could win without Okaro," Tornadoes coach Allen Carden said. "We just weren't mentally prepared. I think the players thought just because they had Clearwater on their jerseys, everybody would fall down.
"That's not the case. Nothing is going to be easy."