After a season in which Admiral Farragut pasted its competition by embarrassingly lopsided margins, coach Mike Wells decided to take the flexibility that came with a smaller district (and fewer games) to upgrade his team's schedule.
Or should that be up-up-upgrade?
Beginning with a game at Miami Pace tonight, the No. 4 Blue Jackets are embarking on the toughest stretch run any team will face this season.
Pace, the defending Class 3A champ and No. 2 in the latest poll, is the first stop. Then it's on to defending Class A state champion and current No. 1, Miami Northwest Christian, Saturday.
In the last two weeks of the regular season, the Blue Jackets will play Class A ranked Oldsmar Christian (8th) and Tampa Bayshore Christian (11), St. Petersburg Catholic (No. 7 in Class 3A) and Melbourne Florida Air, the defending Class 3A champ and current No. 1.
That's three defending state champs, two top-ranked teams, a No. 2, and three others in the top 10 in eight games.
"I don't take any pride in beating people (by large margins)," Wells said. "We want to play teams you have to play great to beat."
Admiral Farragut (14-3) has already lost to Winter Haven, Class 4A runner-up last year, current No. 2 and one of just two remaining unbeaten teams.
Wells hopes the schedule pays dividends come playoff time, when his team tries to make it to the state semifinals for consecutive years and third time in five.
"I have been in that spot where we've won 30 games and didn't have a good game all year," he said. "Then you advance to the tournament and don't know how to have that big possession or that big stop or come back when you're down 5 or 6 points.
"A perfect schedule would have you favored in a third of the games, a third would be toss-ups and you'd be the underdog in a third."
Of course, Wells says he would never admit publicly his team was an underdog, but you can bet privately this year's schedule comes pretty close to perfect.
STREAK ON THE LINE: Lakewood, No. 3 in 4A, hasn't lost a district game since the 2000-2001 season, a string that will receive a serious tug tonight when No. 7 Sarasota Booker visits the Spartans.
Lakewood has already survived two district scares this month. On Jan. 8, it needed overtime to beat Booker 66-64. And last week, the Spartans trailed Bradenton Southeast by six points with less than 3 minutes to go before rallying to a 56-50 victory.
FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Tonight is the best Friday. Other than Lakewood's game with Booker and Farragut's game at Pace, a Clearwater team looking more and more beatable travels to rival Largo, Oldsmar Christian gets another crack at a public school team when it meets Palm Harbor University, and St. Petersburg and Gibbs break the tie atop the Class 5A-9 standings. Gibbs (8-1) beat the Green Devils (9-1) the first time.
_ JOHN C. COTEY