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Cotey: Clearwater's O'Rourke just wanted it all

LAKELAND — Regan O'Rourke started his senior year hoping to win a district title.

That's it.

"I would have been satisfied," he said.

He ended his senior year crying in front of a few thousand red and purple-clad fans, a silver medal hanging from his neck, his balled up hand trying to push the tears back where they came from.

Funny how things work out, how expectations change, how what was once unattainable now rips you apart because it was so … darn … close.

Imagine that.

O'Rourke didn't have his best game Friday night in Clearwater's season-ending 53-46 defeat at the hands of your Class 5A state champion Gainesville Purple Hurricanes.

He was in early foul trouble.

He made just one of his 14 shots.

He was human.

Still, it isn't nearly enough to erase the season, the strides he made in his game, the way he, maybe more than anyone, was the X factor in getting Clearwater to this game.

And there's always The Shot II, a floater flicked off the backboard to give Clearwater one of the most memorable state semifinal wins ever.

Regan O'MyGodIcan'tbelievehemadeit!

"I've been on the top of the mountain the last two days," he said.

The tumble back down stings. A silver medal and a trophy not as big as the one Gainesville got isn't much of a cushion for the landing.

Funny how things change.

Before the season, O'Rourke hadn't even won a district championship. Not only hadn't he won, but he had lost barely.

In 2006, by a 53-51 score.

In 2007, it was 55-54.

Last year, it was 38-37.

"Four total points," he said. "I wanted to win just one."

This year, the Tornadoes won by 32 points, and didn't let up until the final game, finally buried beneath an avalanche of Gainesville 3-pointers.

"Coach (Allen) Carden came in and we had this list of goals he put up, and we just started checking them off. Next thing you know, we were checking off regional championship and we're here," O'Rourke said.

He thinks it all started the January night after losing to Lakewood, their only loss to Tampa Bay competition.

At East Lake, the team that was supposed to dethrone Clearwater this season, the Tornadoes rolled to a 75-58 win.

"We blew them out, and after that I think we knew," he said.

Knew that a district title wasn't going to be enough.

Along the way, O'Rourke evolved into a money player.

He was the X factor, the one player who had to be better than he had been his whole high school career for Clearwater to turn a good season to great.

He was Clearwater's best and most consistent postseason performer, helping turn the Blake, Hillsborough and Venice games in the Tornadoes' favor.

Then of course, there was The Shot II (in deference to The Shot, which still has to be Keona Dixon's full-court heave to beat Boca Ciega in a playoff game two years ago).

And he helped reinvent himself in his new coach's eyes, going from moody and uncoachable to the dream student.

"Regan was just wonderful," said Carden, who helped hand O'Rourke one of those district losses last year while he was the coach at Pinellas Park.

"He had a reputation for not being very coachable, but the kid plays his guts out, he practices his guts out. And he's going to be very difficult to replace."

He never got in the flow Friday, two quick fouls and the refs all but sealing the postseason Superman in the telephone booth.

He still managed eight assists, a stat he has grown fonder of as he matured as a player.

For a split second, he looked ready to take flight when he made his only shot with 38 seconds left in the third quarter to get Clearwater back within 10, sparking a furious rally.

The Tornadoes eventually got within two points at 40-38 after back-to-back baskets by Julien Sargent, but no closer.

"We thought we were going to win," O'Rourke said. "We really thought we were going to win."

He didn't want to hold the runnerup trophy as he, Sargent and Malcolm Grigley took the podium as the lone seniors.

And he didn't want that silver medal, either.

Today he may fiddle with it a little bit, see how the light hits it, maybe even smile when he realizes that Regan O'Rourke started his senior year hoping to win a district title.

Cotey: Clearwater's O'Rourke just wanted it all 03/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 12:21am]
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