The Pasco High boys basketball team is picking up where the football team left off.
Led by a group of players who were main cogs in the Pirates' championship football team, Pasco has won 12 straight games in boys basketball and entered the state's top 10 in Class 3A at No. 9 with an 18-2 record.
"Actually, I think it was a case of the football team picking up where the basketball team left off last year," said Pasco coach Willie Broner. "We won the district title in basketball and that just carried over into football.
"And now, the motivation factor is greater. The boys want to keep the momentum going from football and improve on their finish from last year in basketball."
Last year, the Pirates came from nowhere to win the 3A-8 championship, rising from a sixth seed and a .500 record to knock off Ridgewood for the title. Pasco lost to Lakeland Kathleen in the regional championship.
This year, Pasco will be the top seed and heavy favorite in 3A-8. The Pirates' last loss was Dec. 28 to Class 4A Dunedin in the championship of the Rams Rotary Classic. The other loss was in the season-opener to Springstead when the heart of Pasco's lineup was still in football pads.
But now, just as in football, Pasco is seemingly unbeatable in the county. The football team swept the Sunshine Athletic Conference and rose to No. 1 in the state rankings with a 10-0 regular season record before losing in the state quarterfinals.
The basketball team is also unbeaten in the county thanks to the play of several football standouts, chief among them Mike Penix and Darren Hambrick. Penix, an all-state defensive back and the county's top rusher, leads Pasco with a 16.7 scoring average. Hambrick, an all-North Suncoast linebacker, is also averaging in double figures.
Winning with the same personnel isn't the only similarity between the Pasco football and basketball teams. Pirates football coach Perry Brown emphasized all season that defense was the key to his team's success, and Broner said the same is true in basketball.
"We've been winning with our man-to-man," Broner said. "We've got the speed to match anyone. And the kids have picked up real well on all the defenses we run."
Broner said defense was the key to Tuesday's 66-44 victory over Tampa Jesuit. Pasco limited Jesuit to 17 first-half points and cleared the bench in the second half. Penix scored 17 points, Jaime Grant had 16 and Hambrick 10 to pace Pasco.
Friday, the Pirates defeated River Ridge 87-59 as Penix scored 23 points and Grant and Hambrick had 13 apiece.
"The key for us is the kids are taking it one game at a time," Broner said. "You can hear them say that in the locker room, and that's what I like to hear.
"I think they feel they have some unfinished business after last year and they're eager to get back to the regionals."
First, Pasco has to get past arch-rival Zephyrhills (11-10).
"You can throw the records out when we play," Broner said. "They will definitely be up for this game. It should be a wild one."
Dawg days: Zephyrhills coach Craig Milburn says his team will be in big trouble against Pasco if the Bulldogs keep playing like they have the past few games.
"We've played some of our worst basketball," said Milburn, whose team's three-game winning streak ended in a 20-point loss to South Sumter last Thursday.
"Mostly, our problem has been defense. We've been giving up a lot of easy baskets."
Friday, the Bulldogs' porous defense allowed Springstead to have a big night in a 79-50 loss. Springstead was missing leading scorer A.J. Stone, who quit the team in a dispute with coach Greg O'Connell, but didn't seem to miss him.
"I told my team before the game that Springstead would either be flat or sky high," Milburn said. "Well, they played a very exciting, good game. They really responded to the situation, and we made it a little easy for them."
The Bulldogs rebounded Tuesday with a 66-59 victory over River Ridge as Booker Pickett and Chris Reaves each scored 17 points.
Milburn hopes to keep the momentum going against Pasco tonight.
"This is the time of the year where you want to be peaking, not letting down," Milburn said. "It's better to get a slump like that out of the way now. But to do it, we're going to have to start playing a lot better basketball."
Bucs sweep rival: For the first time in six years Gulf has swept its season series with crosstown rival Ridgewood. Gulf did it convincingly Friday, 74-55, as Billy McFarland scored 23 points and Jeremy Fetzner and Brett Wiest had 14 each.
"It's no problem getting the kids up for them," said Gulf coach Greg Bollinger. "We're starting to play well at the right time of the year. Hopefully, we can continue the pace."
Gulf, which has been idle since the Ridgewood game, has won six of its past seven games to reach 12-9. The Bucs face Land O'Lakes tonight.
Warriors size up: The New Port Richey Christian boys basketball team continues to grow as 6-3 freshman Josh Barker, a transfer from River Ridge, has moved up from the junior varsity.
He joins 6-11 sophomore Andy Peters and 6-5 sophomore Manny Jones.
"We're really looking to the future with these three," said NPRC assistant coach Jeff Yale. "We're expecting a lot."
Jones is the most accomplished of the three as he scored 14 points, had 20 rebounds and 12 blocked shots in a 76-55 victory over St. Petersburg-Canterbury.
And in a loss last week to Hudson, Jones had 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
New Port Richey Christian (11-12) faces Tampa Baptist tonight.