ST. PETERSBURG — The top two teams in the Northeast Christmas Invitational advanced to tonight's final, but took different paths there.
Wharton struggled early before finally putting away Boca Ciega 59-48 in Friday's first semifinal. In the second game, St. Petersburg had little trouble getting past host Northeast 72-41. Wharton (12-2) will play St. Petersburg (11-0) at 8:30 for the championship.
Boca Ciega led 6-0 midway through the first quarter. After three free throws, Wharton got its first field goal with 2:11 left on Thomas Tonelli's jump shot. From there, the Wildcats took an 11-6 lead before Boca Ciega's Matt Humbert hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to cut the first-quarter lead to 11-9.
Wharton couldn't shake Boca Ciega in the second quarter. Chase Litton converted a three-point play and Jack Taylor hit two 3-point shots to give the Wildcats a 20-11 lead.
But the Pirates came back with a 3-pointer by Humbert, a layup by Koby Wynn and two Humbert free throws to cut the lead to 20-18. Wharton only led 22-18 at halftime.
"The first half was frustrating," Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said. "We had 11 turnovers, and a lot of those were just us throwing the ball away. They were just unforced. But I was proud of the way they kept their composure and played tougher and smarter in the second half."
The Pirates (5-9) led 28-26 halfway through the third. But Wharton went on an 18-5 run to take a 44-33 lead late in the quarter. Boca Ciega got to within 48-43 in the fourth, but Wharton got some key steals and conversions to end any Pirates comeback.
"We're just young," Boca Ciega coach Randy Shuman said. "We're a heck of a JV team."
Taylor led Wharton with 17 points. John Christian added 12 and Litton had 11. Raeshon Dunbar had 16 points for Boca Ciega.
In the second game, St. Petersburg started on a 10-2 run. The Green Devils hurt the Vikings (1-15) with size, but also with outside shooting. The Green Devils hit 10 3-point shots in the 31-point win.
They also spread out their scoring; St. Petersburg had nine players score. Darius Banks had 14 points, Dayon Griffin added 13, Pro Wells had 11 and Travis Bianco had 10. Keith Harrington's 15 points led Northeast.
In today's fifth-place game, Tampa Bay Tech will play Northeast at 5:30. Countryside faces Boca Ciega for third at 7.
ST. PETERSBURG — There was an air of inevitability to the final of Shorecrest's holiday tournament. The bracket builders planned it. Fans wanted it. Players expected it.
They all got it.
A final between the host Chargers and Tampa Prep, anticipated since the tournament began on Thursday, became a reality when both teams won Friday's semifinals.
The two ranked teams in Class 3A meet tonight at 7:30.
Both got there by relying on a size advantage inside.
For the Terrapins (10-1) the big man in the middle is 6-foot-9 forward Juwan Durham, who is rated a five-star recruit by ESPN. He posed a huge matchup problem for Jacksonville Creekside, which had a lineup that featured no player taller than 6-5.
Durham's long arms altered shots and he worked his way inside to score a team-high 28 points to lead the Terrapins to a 57-44 victory.
The score was tied at 12 after one quarter. Tampa Prep got into a rhythm after that, outscoring 14-2 to go ahead 26-14 at the half.
"We were a little sluggish to start the game but played a lot better in the second and third quarter," Terrapins coach Joe Fenlon said. "We built enough of a lead at that point where we could afford a mistake or two. Plus it helps having Juwan out there. He can correct a lot of mistakes."
In the other semifinal, Shorecrest shucked its roots, abandoning its freewheeling style against Pinellas Park to work the ball inside to Jay Joyer. The move was out necessity considering the Chargers were without their leading scorer, Brady Grimm, who was nursing a strained hamstring.
Joyer, at 6-9, is a towering figure who is proficient around the basket. Friday he used his skill and savvy for a team-high 25 points and 21 rebounds in a 76-66 victory.
"We went inside a little more, and the team had a lot of faith in me," Joyer said. "My teammates set me up beautifully, and I was able to do the rest. It was by far the best game I've had this year."
Shorecrest (11-2) built a double-digit lead in the third quarter. But the Patriots got back into the game by firing at will from long range. In all, Pinellas Park hit 11 3-pointers, seven by Nick Preradovic.
By hitting from the outside, the Patriots quickly cut the deficit and tied it at 58 in the fourth. Shorecrest immediately went on a 5-0 run and never trailed down the stretch.
"We tried to post Jay up a little more, and that's not our normal routine," Chargers coach Daryl Blume said. "Jay got us going and then Pinellas Park got hot to keep it close. We made an adjustment and that helped us in the end.
"Jay just came up huge all game. It will be a great matchup with him and Juwan (Durham) in the final."
Bob Putnam, Times staff writer
Nature Coast tourney
BROOKSVILLE — Brooks-DeBartolo and Tarpon Springs won their openers in the Nature Coast Christmas Tournament to set up a semifinal meeting today.
The Spongers (12-2) had their hands full. Jefferson (13-4) was very cold from the field, and though the Tigers pushed Tarpon to the brink, the inability to score eventually led to a 55-49 win for the Spongers, who got a great performance from Scottie James (24 points, 15 rebounds).
"We hit some good shots inside and handled their man-pressure defense well," Spongers coach Jerry Woodka said. "It's always a lot of Scottie, but Jefferson double-teamed the ball. We responded well and all five got involved."
The Phoenix (9-3), without three top players for various reasons, defeated Springstead 69-55 in the opener.
Nature Coast (11-1) won 79-66 over Steinbrenner (3-10), which got 35 points from top scorer Keshawn Ingram. The Sharks meet Orlando Jones today.
Derek J. LaRiviere, Times correspondent