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In what was supposed to be the most promising season in years for the Clearwater basketball team, in what was to be the start of a playoff run to Lakeland, the Tornadoes bowed out gracefully.

They left without a conference title.

They left without a district title.

They left without a playoff win.

Which leaves us with this: How?

How did that happen?

It's a question that will be bandied about for a few weeks to come.

This was, after all, a team fed by the county's best junior varsity program, with a Division I-A point guard and center, the kind of size that small colleges would kill for, and of course a transfer here and there.

It was a team that was expected to contend for, if not win, a state championship.

And it was Clearwater, the county's lightning rod hoops program where expectations are always high and the fans traditionally demanding.

Add it all up, and fair or not, you are left with a team that turned out to be pretty average.

"Everyone was kind of let down," said Luke Loucks, a senior bound for Florida State next season. "It's crazy that our season's over."

Loucks doesn't blame you for being disappointed. He said that if he were looking in from the outside, he'd be disappointed, too. Going to school Friday and seeing all the sad faces killed him.

"We had a lot of talent," he said. "We were supposed to still be playing."

While everyone seems to be looking for a deeper meaning, darker reasons and definite conclusions to the untimely demise of the Tornadoes, they need look no further than the game at Plant on Thursday.

It wasn't the referees calling 55 fouls. It wasn't the head referee lamely calling a technical on Loucks - he said that was the first technical of his high school career - that ended his night with seven minutes left. It wasn't missed free throws. It wasn't a lack of composure down the stretch.

It was all of those things, on the same night, at the worst time.

For all the talk of the coach and the center who never fit in and the chemistry, remember that maybe it was just the fact that Clearwater lost three starters to fouls, then had to play an overtime shorthanded, with one player who hadn't practiced the previous week because he was sick and another who hardly played at all.

In the course of a season, a basketball team is going to have bad nights. It will lose on some of them and gut out a win on others.

But it has to get those out of the way. It has to fight through them.

Clearwater didn't.

That doesn't make it a bad team.

It just didn't make it a great one.

John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or

Up next

Region semifinals

All games at 7 Tuesday

5A: Plant at Pinellas Park

5A: Charlotte at Lakewood

3A: St. Petersburg Catholic at Dunbar

2A: Calvary Christian at Tampa Prep

2A: Community School at Admiral Farragut