TAMPA — After starting the season 10-1, including victories over basketball powers Haines City and Tampa Prep, Tampa Catholic found life outside of Florida more difficult.
Playing in the MaxPreps Holiday Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., last weekend, the Crusaders dropped two close matchups to teams from California and another to Alabama's Wenonah before falling by 44 to Utah's American Fork.
Back in the Sunshine State for the Berkeley Basketball Invitational, the Crusaders returned to their winning ways.
Against previously undefeated Lakeland Kathleen, Tampa Catholic surged to a 12-point lead with less than three minutes left then made enough plays to win 71-65.
"I think (the MaxPreps tournament) helped us some," Crusaders coach Don Dziagwa said. "Not taking anything away from Kathleen, but they're not as big as some of those teams we faced out there."
Tampa Catholic (11-5) started slowly, falling behind 17-11 after the first quarter. A fullcourt press, however, forced Kathleen (12-1) into numerous second-quarter turnovers, and the Crusaders took a 26-23 lead on a Chivarsky Corbett 3-pointer with 2:25 before halftime.
Another 3 by Corbett, this one while falling out of bounds at the buzzer, pushed Tampa Catholic's advantage to 32-27.
Tampa Catholic led 46-43 after three quarters and built some distance on consecutive 3-pointers by Thomas Dziagwa for a 53-45 advantage early in the fourth. But Kathleen fought back to within four on a pair of deep 3s by Taye Green and a bucket from Kevin Wilson.
Wilson's free throw with 23 seconds made it a one-possession game at 68-65. Dziagwa, however, hit 1 of 2 from the free-throw line, and Kathleen missed its final 3-pointer.
"It's kind of a relief to win," Dziagwa, the coach, said. "I thought we didn't play with a whole lot of confidence. We were hesitant at times we would normally let it fly. But maybe this win will help us."
Corbett had game highs of 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Dziagwa contributed 20 points, and Sam Harris added 16 for the Crusaders.
Jesuit 54, Sarasota Mooney 52: Junior forward Daniel Darst made two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to lift the Tigers. With the score 52-52, the Cougars' Blair Perry drove to the basket but lost control of the ball. Darst picked it up and was fouled in the process. Christian Whidden made five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 25 points for Jesuit (10-5).
Naples Community 58, Tampa Prep 48: Tampa Prep led by 11 points midway through the second quarter, but Community's Zach Rochette caught fire, drilling five 3-pointers to tie the score by halftime. Community (14-0) continued its hot shooting after the break, making 5 of its 8 3-pointers. Juwan Durham and Michael Fridella each had 12 points for Tampa Prep (11-2). Jeff Merton paced Community with 24.
Berkeley Prep 63, Miami Gulliver Prep 40: Berkeley opened an 18-0 lead in the first and cruised to stay undefeated. Senior guard Craig Bowman led all scorers with 20 points. Texas Tech commit Justin Gray chipped in 14 and Eric Reintgen 11 for the Buccaneers (14-0).
Orlando Lake Highland: 73, Miami Ransom Everglades 50: North Carolina signee Joel Berry scored 18 points and Jay Henderson 17 for the Highlanders (12-3).