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Fellowship Baptist boys best in state

Some would say Fellowship Baptist Academy's boys varsity basketball team had some divine intervention. But so did everyone else in this particular tournament.

What the Eagles also had was resolve, determination, a balanced offense and a little more than a dose of stamina.

Playing six games in just over 24 hours, the Eagles rolled to a 5-1 record, and with a 63-55 victory over Hillsborough Christian in the final, took the Florida Christian Activities Association state title on March 7 in an eight-team tournament in Sarasota.

"There's no question about it. I was concerned about our conditioning," coach Dick Burgess said. "We did a bit of running throughout the year but not as much as I would have liked."

"I wasn't sure if everybody had the stamina to last so many games so quickly," senior forward Tim Gordon said. "So I think we tried to conserve some of the energy in the first two games and then really go at it the next four. Any way you take it, that was a lot of basketball."

The marathon began for the New Port Richey school of 30 high schoolers at 8 a.m. March 6 against Seffner Christian. The Eagles jumped to a 30-13 lead at the half, added a 13-point third quarter, and pulled away with an explosive 21-point fourth for the 64-52 win.

Senior Josh Fry, a 6-foot-5 forward who averaged 10 points and 16.5 rebounds for the tournament, scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed a tournament-high 23 rebounds, while guard Paul Wyatt had 13 points and Gordon added 12.

Fry was 10-of-18 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free throw line as he helped fill the void left by the absence of 6-foot-7 center Steve Weiss (15.5 points, 8.1 rebounds).

That afternoon, the Eagles were back on the court, this time facing La Gloria Christian of Miami. Gordon and Fry were at it again, scoring 19 and 18 respectively as Fellowship rolled to a 57-45 win. Senior point guard Doug Mills had 10 points and 10 assists.

"It's nice for a coach to know that he has that kind of luxury where somebody is going to step up," Burgess said. "Our starters play a lot of minutes, but we got great contributions from everybody."

"Having a balanced offense was one of the big keys for us," Fry said. "The person responsible for that was Doug. He was able to get the ball to everyone at the right time."

The only snag came early the following morning when the Eagles faced tournament favorite Hillsborough Christian in the first of three meetings that day.

Hillsborough opened a 10-point lead at the half and yielded little ground after that. Bryant Golden hit 6 of 10 three-point field goals and was 5-of-6 from the line to lead Hillsborough to a 64-49 win. It was only the second loss in 19 games for the Eagles. Gordon led Fellowship with 23 points.

"We weren't rotating properly," Mills said of Golden's outburst. "He kept coming off screens and getting open shots."

Dropped to the losers bracket, the Fellowship Baptist team was tested again as La Gloria opened up a 25-23 first-half lead. But the Eagles responded in the second half, got six points each from Fry and Wyatt in a fourth-quarter rally, and held on for a 49-43 victory. Fry led all scorers with 16 points and the Eagles got 10 apiece from Gordon and Mills to stave off elimination.

The task at hand then was to twice defeat Hillsborough, which still was unbeaten in the double-elimination tournament. Having already lost to Hillsborough earlier in the day, the Eagles weren't ready to go down twice.

"That was a very critical game," Burgess said. "We were facing elimination and had already lost to them before.

"They were ready to play. We knew we could play with those guys and talked a lot before the game about stopping the three-pointers. I scouted them the game before and knew that the secret was to stop the three."

Fellowship got one of its best team efforts of the tournament with 18, 16 and 14 points from Wyatt, Gordon and Fry and cruised to an emotional 61-49 win over a team that had not lost all season.

"We went to a basic 2-3 zone and spread the bottom line out as far as possible," Mills said. "We wanted to stop those guys from getting good looks."

The two teams would meet one more time in a classic game of runs and counter-runs. Fellowship opened a 19-7 first-quarter lead as Gordon and Wyatt combined for 11 points, but Hillsborough clawed back with a 19-8 run of its own during the second quarter to narrow the Eagles' halftime lead to one (27-26).

But Gordon scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half and Wyatt added seven of his game-high 21, also in the second half, to pull off the win and take the state title.

"It feels great," Burgess said. "This is a great bunch of guys and they are deserving champions."