Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Sports

Tarpon Springs' defense takes spotlight

TARPON SPRINGS — Last week, the rain had come and gone. The offense, too. But the defense remained, coming through with one more stop.

That late stand by Tarpon Springs, which struggled on defense last season, felt like something more than the impetus for the Spongers' 21-17 victory over Osceola. It felt like the start of a turnaround in which Tarpon Springs shoves itself into the postseason conversation.

The unbeaten Spongers have allowed 17 points in their first two games, fourth best in the county. The improved play of the defense gives Tarpon Springs an edge as it heads into tonight's home game against Tampa Catholic (1-1), a team many are starting to believe is a state title contender in Class 3A.

"There's no doubt, our defense has been key for how well we've played so far," coach Ron Hawn said.

There were Fridays last season when running backs moving through the front seven of the Spongers' defense looked like steel balls careening off the flippers of a pinball machine. The yardage and missed tackles rolled up as quickly as points in an arcade game.

Running backs shredded Tarpon Springs for more than 170 yards a game, leaving the reputation of the defense in tatters during a seven-game losing streak to close out the season.

"It was frustrating the way we played," linebacker Damarkus Jones said. "We just needed to tackle better. We knew we had the talent, but there were too many missed opportunities to make plays."

The defensive unit had an entire offseason to absorb the reality of its futility.

"We didn't change much in what we did," Hawn said. "We focused on tackling better. But the biggest change is in character. Guys are on time, disciplined and focused on what we're trying to do."

Hawn took over as defensive coordinator and streamlined the system. The Spongers now operate out of a base 3-4 defense, with tackling machines such as Casey Luckenbill at inside linebacker, big bodies such as Brian Anderson and Mitchell Wilcox up front, and players such as Jones who seek out quarterbacks from the edge.

The difference showed in spring practice when running back Michael Ford, one of the county's leading rushers last season, was consistently bottled up by his defensive teammates.

"That first practice set the tempo for the whole season," Luckenbill said. "When we were able to bring down Mike, that gave us all a lot of confidence."

The tackling drills continued with old-school fundamentals this summer. It paid off when the Spongers held Anclote to 12 yards rushing in their preseason game and allowed minus-16 yards of offense to Clearwater in the season opener.

"The changes are pretty simple," Wilcox said. "We've basically polished up a lot in fundamentals and have physical practices. We've done well so far, and we want to come out again this week and show what we're made of."

Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.

Comments
Lightning beats Predators in overtime

Lightning beats Predators in overtime

NASHVILLE — Steven Stamkos’ celebration said it all.The Lightning captain delivered an emphatic fist pump after his rocket one-timer clanked in off the crossbar, tying the score with just over two minutes left at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night. S...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Lightning journal: Mikhail Sergachev a healthy scratch

Lightning journal: Mikhail Sergachev a healthy scratch

NASHVILLE — Lightning rookie D Mikhail Sergachev was a healthy scratch Tuesday for the first time this season.Coach Jon Cooper didn’t elaborate before a 4-3 overtime victory over the Predators, just labeling it a "coach’s decision."It was a bold deci...
Updated: 20 minutes ago

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning-Predators

Steven Stamkos is showing signs of snapping out of his slump. Stamkos, who Tuesday snapped a nine-game goal drought, had more jump (and four shots) Monday. On Tuesday, Stamkos had a slick setup on a 2-on-1 for Vladislav Namestnikov’s goal. Stamkos’ 3...
Updated: 27 minutes ago

Wednesday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballMarquette at Xavier6:30 p.m.FS1South Carolina at Florida7 p.m.SEC; 1250-AMGeorgia Tech at Florida State7 p.m.FSF; 1010-AMBoston College at Syracuse7 p.m.ESPNUSt. Joseph’s at St. Bonaventure7 p.m.CBSSNNebraska at Rutgers7 p.m.Bi...
Updated: 29 minutes ago

Two quick goals in second lift Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Dominik Simon and Jean-Sebastien Dea scored 76 seconds apart in the second period, fellow rookie Casey DeSmith made 34 saves and the Penguins beat the Hurricanes 3-1 on Tuesday night. Jake Guentzel added a goal midway through the third a...
Updated: 1 hour ago

James joins exclusive group with 30K points

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — LeBron James has joined the 30,000-point club. James became the seventh player with 30,000 career points when he hit a jumper with one second left in the first quarter of the Cavaliers’ game against the Spurs on Tuesday night. Ja...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Back on right path, Robinson High’s Byron Pringle hopes to impress at Senior Bowl

Back on right path, Robinson High’s Byron Pringle hopes to impress at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — Byron Pringle understands how easily his life could have gone another way."I’ve been through a lot, but I’m very blessed," he said. "What happened in the past, it made me who I am today. It’s made me realize you have to value the thing...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Downcast Nadal hobbles out, unable to finish fifth set

Downcast Nadal hobbles out, unable to finish fifth set

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal limped off the court after quitting in pain early in the fifth set Tuesday to send Marin Cilic into the semifinals of the Australian Open, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 2-0.The top seed, who had been treated on his upp...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Senior Bowl journal: Washington State teammates playing with heavy hearts after QB’s suicide

Senior Bowl journal: Washington State teammates playing with heavy hearts after QB’s suicide

MOBILE, Ala. — Washington State QB Luke Falk and G Cole Madison began their practices at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday with heavy hearts, still reeling from last week’s news that Cougars QB Tyler Hilinski had committed suicide.They remembered their frie...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Sports in brief

BASEBALLgranderson joins blue jaysTORONTO — OF Curtis Granderson and the Blue Jays finalized a $5 million, one-year contract. The three-time All-Star, 36, wore a Blue Jays T-shirt in a video posted to his Twitter timeline Tuesday and wrote he was "th...
Updated: 3 hours ago