TAMPA — Wharton earned the No. 1 seed in Class 7A, District 7 partly by surviving a challenging schedule to move up the power rankings in the Florida High School Association’s new playoff system.
The Wildcats also went 7-1 against their district counterparts in the regular season, the lone loss coming against Sickles nearly three weeks ago.
On Thursday, Wharton will meet their rival again in the final of the district tournament with a chance to avenge that defeat.
“It’s not too often you have an opportunity to play for a district championship, let alone one on your home court,” Wildcats coach Tommy Tonelli said. “If that doesn’t get you motivated or excited, I don’t know what will.”
To make that happen, Wharton had to get past Alonso in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Wildcats swept the regular-season meetings, but the results were mixed. In the opener, the Wildcats dominated, winning 64-35. But in the rematch, Wharton had trouble putting the Ravens away before buckling down in overtime to prevail.
This time, the Wildcats (23-3) were convincing from the start. They led every quarter and were able to pull the starters by the fourth in a 68-37 victory.
“I was definitely happy with the performance,” Tonelli said. “We got into a little foul trouble in the second quarter but were able to settle down after that and take control of the game.”
Three players — Gio Reyes (20 points) Carr Thiam (17) and Chandler Davis (13) — reached double figures in scoring to help Wharton win its seventh straight and improve to 23-3.
The Gryphons advanced by beating Plant 60-51 in the other semifinal. Sickles (20-6) has won 12 straight, currently the longest streak in the area.
The game was tight with the lead changing five times in the third quarter. The Gryphons eventually pulled away by knocking down 3-pointers and hitting inside shots that were not falling earlier in the game. Gary Jones III scored 16 points and Dillon Mitchell added 13 to lead Sickles.
Reagan Weiss finished with a team-high 19 for the Panthers (16-10).