Five North Suncoast basketball seasons sure to endure

Sixteen minutes separated the Springstead Eagles from local immortality. Were it not for a second-half meltdown last weekend against Cocoa in the Class 4A state boys basketball final, the Eagles' season would undoubtedly have gone down as the greatest in Pasco-Hernando basketball history. But alas, it now ranks No. 3. Yes, the Eagles' 31-1 campaign and dazzling playoff run got us to pondering: Which local teams, boys or girls, had the greatest seasons ever? Now, we've come up with our top five. Remember, these aren't necessarily the best teams, but the best seasons. Frankly, we could fill pages with great teams that didn't fulfill their potential, but that's for another day and another tree.

1. 1962 Zephyrhills boys

Record: 30-1

Coach: Jack Wilson

Classification: Class B

Key players: G Bill McGavern, PG Norm Weaver, F Donnie Crutcher

Playoff run: Defeated Williston 71-55 in first round; defeated Ocoee 58-45 in semifinals; defeated Blountstown 60-58 in state final

Breakdown: After losing their season opener by four points to Wauchula, the Bulldogs, whose home court was an outdoor slab, ran and pressed their way to the first state title in North Suncoast history. Using relentless full-court pressure employed by Wilson (who would go on to coach at Clearwater), Zephyrhills rallied from a 10-0 deficit to top Ocoee in the semifinals. Their win over Blountstown in the championship game avenged a one-point loss to the Panhandle school in the 1960 final. Just how talented was this group? Mike McGinnis, who would go on to play at Florida, was a backup.

2. 1964 Zephyrhills boys

Record: 30-4

Coach: Charlie McKinney

Classification: Class B

Key players: G Mike McGinnis, F Nelson Spoto, C Jed Wilkinson, PG Fletcher Padgett, G Ray Bolt

Playoff run: Defeated Pahokee 46-43 in region semifinals; defeated DeSoto 52-42 in region finals; defeated Madison 63-47 in state semifinals; defeated Mount Dora 33-29 in state final

Breakdown: In terms of style, this Bulldogs team was the polar opposite of its 1962 state title predecessor. "We pressed some, but our team was a much more disciplined team," said retired ZHS administrator Ron Cherry, a backup forward. "(McKinney) believed a good offense was basically a good defense. If you had the ball (the opponent) couldn't score." McKinney was only 21 when he was hired to replace Wilson after the 1962 season. Though it still practiced outdoors, according to Cherry, this team played home games at the congested Dade City Armory, where a crowd of 600 could sound like 6,000.

3. 2009 Springstead boys

Record: 31-1

Coach: Pat Kelly

Classification: 4A

Key players: F Isaiah Mason, G Dante Valentine, G Dominique Roberson

Playoff run: Defeated Poinciana 71-57 in region quarterfinals; defeated Hudson 72-49 in region semis; defeated Ocala West Port 76-47 in region finals; defeated Pensacola 61-49 in state semifinals; lost to Cocoa 75-60 in state final

Breakdown: Athleticism and suffocating perimeter defense were the trademarks of Kelly's club, which went mostly unchallenged until the state tournament. Absent from the bay area radar at the season's outset, Springstead won 27 of its 31 games by double digits, which might partially have led to its downfall. When Cocoa erased an 11-point halftime deficit by outscoring Springstead 20-4 in the third quarter, the Eagles found themselves trailing in the second half for only the third or fourth time all season.

4. 1986 Zephyrhills girls

Record: 31-2

Coach: Ernie Pittman

Classification: 3A

Key players: C Jeanine "The Dream" Boyd, F Pam Knopp, G Angie Brooks, PG Missy Mikolajczak

Playoff run: Defeated Auburndale 60-47 in region semifinals; defeated Lake Wales 36-34 in region finals; defeated Ocala Vanguard 48-46 in sectionals; defeated Hallandale 61-58 (4OT) in state semifinals; lost to Gibbs 51-37 in state final

Breakdown: Endowed with great balance, this club won the first district title in program history, then a lot more. The Bulldogs could dominate on the interior with the tandem of Boyd and Knopp, both of whom stood taller than 6 feet, or outshoot foes from the perimeter. Their four-overtime thriller against Hallandale, arguably the greatest game in girls state tournament history, left the Bulldogs physically and emotionally drained. When it faced Gibbs less than 48 hours later, Pittman's club was clearly out of gas.

5. 1995 Pasco boys

Record: 24-3

Coach: Willie Broner

Classification: 4A

Key players: C Rafi Reavis, G/F Troy Hambrick, G Tim Crosby

Playoff run: Defeated Clearwater Central Catholic 73-34 in sub-region; defeated North Marion 52-50 in region semifinals; defeated Lakewood 50-47 in region finals; lost to Lake Wales 51-50 in state semifinals

Breakdown: Hands down, this ranks as the most bittersweet season in area history. During a game at South Sumter on Jan. 11, Pirates junior Randy Bates collapsed while on the bench and died of cardiac arrest due to a heart condition. Six weeks later in the same gym, the Pirates topped Lakewood to reach the program's first state tournament in 35 years. Talented, well-coached and driven by the desire to honor their teammate, the Pirates' title quest ended when 6-foot-7 Lake Wales center Roy Leath (who had signed with Seton Hall) blocked Vic Daniels' 3-point try with three seconds left in the semifinals. It was Pasco's first loss since Bates' death.

Five North Suncoast basketball seasons sure to endure 03/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 10:32pm]

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