On Saturday, East Lake’s boys basketball team won its first Pinellas County Athletic Conference title.
But it was who the Eagles beat that caused an even bigger celebration.
For nearly a decade, East Lake had fallen short against St. Petersburg.
That changed in the conference championship.
The Eagles ended years of frustration by winning 61-39. It was the first time East Lake’s Britt Taylor had beaten St. Petersburg as a head coach.
“This is big for our team, our kids, our school,” Taylor said. “We finally got over that hump.”
The Eagles felt they were getting close. In the summer, East Lake knocked off the Green Devils.
Still, that it was in games that did not count. Once the regular season started, St. Petersburg continued its mastery in the series, beating the Eagles by double digits twice to claim the top seed in next week’s Class 8A, District 10 tournament.
To get past this stumbling block, Taylor knew he had to take a different approach.
“I told our players that St. Petersburg was just more athletic than us at four of the five starting positions,” Taylor said. “That was not an opinion. That’s just facts. We had to slow the pace down. We had to sacrifice taking good shots for great ones. That took discipline, but they did it.”
By slowing down, the Eagles (20-4) were able to dictate the pace. They were up 24-23 at the half and continued to build on the lead.
Dionte Blanch had 23 points and Jordan Hillmon added 14 to lead the Eagles.
The win comes at an opportune time with the district tournament starting next week.
“We needed this a whole lot more than St. Petersburg did,” Taylor said.
But there is not much time to celebrate.
After all, East Lake could end up facing the Green Devils in the district final and regionals.
“If everything goes right we could see each other two more times,” Taylor said. ‘This one was nice, but we’ll have to come back and do it again.”