LARGO — Once Largo started finishing on the offensive end, Springstead was finished.
But it wasn't an easy trip to the host Packers' ninth straight victory, 65-56. Especially early, the district newbies brought energy and discipline, leading for much of the first half before a late Largo run led to a one-point advantage at the break.
"Being poised under pressure, not taking quick shots, making them guard us, that was our game plan," Eagles coach Tim Plumadore said. "We knew they were long, they were fast, and they were athletic. We wanted to make them work as hard as possible."
Behind hustling efforts from Aaron Waddy (nine of his 11 points in the first half) and guard Devonte Valentin (game-high 22 points), Springstead (8-3, 3-2 district play) kept Largo (9-0, 2-0) off balance.
"Yeah, (the Eagles) came right out and punched us in the face, so to speak," Packers coach Phil Price said. "They played great defense."
But when Largo pulled together, got a little more disciplined and patient on offense, the tide turned.
After a first half of rushed shots and missed bunnies, capped by a rejection by Anthony Caban on a second-quarter stuff, center Brandon Jones was a changed man in the final 16 minutes.
"I felt if I could get my shots to fall early, I'd have a good game," Jones said. "But I was rushing a few of my shots and they took advantage of our mistakes."
After shooting 3 for 14 in the first half, Jones was 4 for 6 from there. He joined frontcourt mate Brandon Drayton to combine for 32 points and 27 rebounds.
"This was our first challenge of the season," Jones said, both of Springstead and of Largo's first game without the injured Donavan Hale. "This was the first of many, to be honest. We expect to play harder teams but I think this was fun. I liked it."
Tornadoes fall in tourney
CLEARWATER — The Clearwater Tornadoes faced a lot of pressure Friday at the Bright House Holiday Tournament and it caught up to them in a 75-43 loss to Poinciana in the semifinals.
Clearwater (4-4) stayed close until the second half when it was outscored 46-13.
Rasim Avmet was the Tornadoes' leading scorer with 10 points.
"We're still learning and adjusting and we've got to find ways to deal that kind of pressure in a game," Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt said.
In the other semifinal, Nature Coast stayed within striking range of Winter Haven for a little more than two quarters, cutting its deficit to 30-27. It gave they Sharks confidence that they could win their semifinal game and stay undefeated.
At about that time, the Blue Devils dialed up the pressure. Relying on its speed, Winter Haven trapped and harassed. That made life miserable for Nature Coast, which could not play the game to which it was accustomed.
The result was a barrage of turnovers and easy transition points for the Blue Devils, who went on a 23-0 run en route to a 57-30 victory.
The Sharks (9-1) play Clearwater in tonight's consolation game at 6. Winter Haven faces Poinciana in the championship game at 8.
"Winter Haven is incredibly fast and athletic and we just aren't used to that type of quickness," Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. "We might see it here or there for a little while in some games but not like this."
It didn't help that the Sharks missed their most athletic player, Rohan Blackwood, who was in Wisconsin for an all-star football game.
His absence was felt midway through the third quarter when the Blue Devils turned up the intensity. Chance McSpadden, rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN, ignited Winter Haven's run. He had a team-high 23 points, including 12 during that second-half run.
"(McSpadden) just took over," Pisarcik said. "It was like he decided that we had hung around in the game too much, and like any great player, he went out and closed the game for his team."
The Sharks did not have a player reach double figures in scoring. Jordan Burkes led the team with eight points.
Bob Putnam, Times staff writer