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District boys basketball: Wharton escapes with fifth straight title

Jack Taylor’s 13 second-half points help spark the Wildcats to their fifth straight championship win.

CHRIS PRICE | Times

Jack Taylor’s 13 second-half points help spark the Wildcats to their fifth straight championship win.

TAMPA — Jack Taylor picked up Wharton for the entire second half to lift the Wildcats to their fifth consecutive district title.

And after the game, it was his turn to get picked up — by teammate Chase Litton in a celebratory bear hug.

Taylor scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in the second half to lead Wharton to a 40-37 victory in the Class 8A, District 7 championship at Alonso.

"Jack definitely stepped up and got us kick-started," Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said.

Taylor's late surge was necessary after Wharton (19-6) struggled through one of its worst halves of the season.

Newsome (16-9) led for most of the game's first 23 minutes. Five Wolves scored in the first quarter while the Wildcats sputtered. Wharton missed 15 of its first 17 shots and had almost as many turnovers (five) as points (six) through the midway point of the second quarter.

"We felt like we couldn't have struggled any more offensively than we did," Tonelli said.

Auden Tate sparked Wharton in the second half with a steal and layup 30 seconds into the third quarter, and Taylor took over from there.

His three-point play cut Wharton's deficit to 19-17, and his bucket off of a Litton pass gave the Wildcats a 24-22 lead with 1:21 left in the third. Wharton never trailed again.

Newsome trailed by seven with three minutes left before mounting a final charge. Hayden Harkins banked in a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left that trimmed Wharton's lead to 40-37.

The Wolves had three more chances to tie the score but missed them all, including a half-court shot at the buzzer that slammed off the backboard.

Tate finished with seven points and seven rebounds for Wharton, and Litton added five points and eight rebounds after missing most of the last two weeks with a severe ankle injury.

Anthony Gamble led Newsome with eight points, and Jeff Povelones and Harkins finished with seven points apiece for the Wolves.

7A-8: Patriots nab first title since 2005

TAMPA — The test had three parts for Freedom.

Play aggressive defense, limit Sickles 6-foot-8 senior Bryce Nickels and make the extra pass on offense. The Patriots aced all three in a 50-39 victory Friday night for the Class 7A, District 8 championship.

No. 2 Freedom (16-6) never trailed, using an early 9-0 run to take control for its first district title since 2005.

Freedom's inside passing game produced 50 percent shooting (21 of 42), and the defense was equally solid. Nickels, a Youngstown State commit, scored only four points as No. 1 Sickles shot 28 percent from the field (13 of 46).

"I tried to stress all year to be unselfish and make the extra pass," Freedom coach Cedric Smith said. "Toward the middle of the year, the guys started believing in it and started seeing the results.

"We wanted to keep the defensive intensity up. We didn't want (Nickels) to get doing, and Sickles' guards (Jaaron Barrett and Isaac Holder) are really good. We guarded the 3 (point line) very well."

Freedom 6-8 senior center Malik Robinson was the centerpiece for Freedom's inside passing game and instrumental in shutting down Nickels.

"No. 21 (Nickels) is their factor player," Robinson said. "Without him, they don't win. We tried to play smart, play aggressive and stop (Nickels)."

Miguel Rojas led Freedom with 14 points, 12 in the first half. Barrett and Holder each scored 11 for Sickles.

Don Jensen, Times correspondent

Region quarterfinals

7 p.m. Thursday

8A: Newsome at St. Petersburg

8A: Palm Harbor University at Wharton

7A: Sickles at Strawberry Crest

7A: Brandon at Freedom

6A: TBD*

5A: Robinson at Lakewood

5A: Gibbs at Jesuit

4A: Tampa Catholic at Avon Park

4A: Frostproof at Berkeley Prep

3A: TBD*

2A: Cambridge at Bayshore Christian

*Finals today

District boys basketball: Wharton escapes with fifth straight title 02/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 7, 2014 11:32pm]

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