TAMPA — Like any coach, Sickles' Renaldo Garcia hates to lose. But after watching his team fall to Winter Springs 78-73 on Friday night in the first round of the Tampa Hoops Classic, Garcia wasn't in a foul mood.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
That's because he thinks the defeat will serve as a learning experience.
"This is the time of year you want this medicine," Garcia said.
The Gryphons (9-3) certainly got a spoonful.
Only one area team advanced into the winner's bracket Friday: Clearwater. The Tornadoes used a strong surge at the end to down Leonardtown (Md.) St. Mary's Ryken 74-65. Clearwater (9-0) next plays Orlando Olympia, which defeated Berkeley Prep 69-64, at 7:15 tonight at Plant. The Tornadoes have not won this season by fewer than eight points.
Ahead by eight midway through the fourth quarter, Sickles appeared to be well on its way to victory. But Winter Springs (8-2) simply wouldn't go away. Instead, the Bears turned their intensity up a notch, particularly on defense, and literally stole one.
"We tried to wear them down throughout the game, then press them in the fourth quarter," Winter Springs coach Travis Jones said.
The plan worked. To perfection.
The Bears' press caused Sickles to rush, and that led to several turnovers, which Winter Springs more often than not converted into points. Once, it was 59-51 in favor of Sickles. Before long, it was tied. Soon Winter Springs led.
And finally, after a 20-4 run, the Bears found themselves in command entering the final minute of play.
"That was a team that has been there before," Sickles forward John Henson said. "Our team has not been there."
Henson certainly did his part.
The heralded North Carolina recruit produced 28 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks — all game highs. But he failed to score in the final 3:25 and missed four foul shots down the stretch, which proved costly.
"It's a tough loss," Henson said. "We had them for three out of four quarters."
Point guard Jordan Davis added 15 points for Sickles. Winter Springs got 27 from forward Luis Jacobo and 21 from sharp-shooting guard Austin Keel, who made five of the team's 10 3-pointers.
Sickles outshot Winter Springs (54.4 to 42.3 percent) and outrebounded the Bears (36-24). But 14 Gryphon turnovers, many of which occurred in the final quarter, may have been the difference.
"We thought we could handle their press a little better," Garcia said.
The Rock Gainesville 79, Lakewood 69: Lakewood did its best to make a major comeback in the opening round of the 35th annual Kingdom of the Sun tournament at Ocala.
The Spartans (7-1), ranked No. 4 in Class 5A, trailed by as many as 21 in second half before cutting the Rock of Gainesville's margin to six with 1:36 left, but fell 79-69.
Justin Minnis (17 points), Shamon Cox (14 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, three steals), LaDarius Barnes (12 points) and Bernard Reedy (13 points) led the way for Lakewood.
Patrick Konan led the Rock with 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting and added nine rebounds. Konan, a 6-foot-5 junior, had 14 points in the third quarter and finished with 20 in the second half.
Scottie Wilbekin added 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Lions. Wilbekin made 6-of-12 shots and went 7-of-8 from the foul line, all in the fourth quarter.
Lakewood returns to action today against Lecanto at 1:30 p.m. in the consolation bracket.
Richard Burton, Times correspondent