CLEARWATER — The winter holidays weren’t kind to Calvary Christian, but the process worked.
Putting together what coach Keb Burley called “the toughest schedule we’ve ever had since I’ve been here,” playing six Florida playoff qualifiers and another from Georgia actually primed the Warriors for their 61-49 victory over Tampa Prep on Thursday to open Class 3A region play.
“We were really excited coming into the year and we hoped to reap the rewards of what the guys have been through,” Burley said. “It's never easy to lose six in a row (with an early 4-9 record) but I'm really proud of the guys sticking together, pulling together and getting better.”
Calvary (17-11) also had a four-game losing streak to the equally battle-tested Terrapins (21-7), who rode balanced scoring to a 14-12 first-quarter advantage. But Josh Berenbaum, the Warriors’ lone senior, knew exactly what his squad had to do to snap that streak and turn the tide.
“We’ve been struggling with turnovers and rebounding all season,” Berenbaum said. “Last time we played (Tampa Prep) they out-rebounded us by 14. I think (Thursday) we were really strong rebounding and we handled their press a lot better.”
As a squad, Calvary only turned the ball over 10 times, and Berenbaum pretty much shored up the rebounding deficit himself as he corralled 17, 11 in the crucial second half when the Warriors pushed a six-point halftime advantage to as large as 20 (49-29) early in the fourth quarter.
“Once I scored a little bit, (the Terrapins) started trapping me so I could kick it out and we got buckets from that,” said Berenbaum, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “We weren't hitting shots very well in the first half and we were only up six, so we knew once we started hitting our shots, we could hold our own.”
“Sometimes seniors are the ones with the greatest nerves because this could be their last game,” Burley said. “Once he relaxed and played like he can do, I thought he was phenomenal.”
Freshman sixth-man Johnny Caicedo (12 points with three 3-pointers), sophomore Trevor Parks (11 points with three 3s) and junior Griffin Barasa (eight points and four assists) helped extend the Tampa Prep defense with effective outside shooting.
“I think we got a couple of surprises with the freshmen that stepped up, like Johnny,” Berenbaum said. “We didn’t know he was going to come out at the beginning of the season and he’s helped us a lot.”
As with any Joe Fenlon-coached team, the Terrapins didn't back down. Clawing back behind seniors Gabriel Sharp (10 points) and Isaac Ward (nine points, seven assists and seven rebounds), Tampa Prep got within 11 with 3:10 left and nine with a minute remaining but time ran out.
The visitors also got nine points each from Jaden Gray (10 boards and five steals) and Jakob Stiglich.
Calvary almost received a huge playoff gift from neighboring Clearwater Central Catholic, who traveled to Naples and pushed a Community School squad with 26 straight victories to overtime. A CCC victory would have given the Warriors a second-round home game against the Marauders but CSN recovered to prevail 55-49.
The two squads will meet on Tuesday.
Games 7 p.m. Tuesday.
7A: No. 3 Wharton at No. 2 Windermere
6A: No. 5 Charlotte at No. 1 East Lake
6A: No. 7 St. Petersburg at No. 3 Fort Myers
6A: No. 7 Lakeland at No. 3 Hillsborough
5A: No. 4 Port Charlotte at No. 1 Clearwater
5A: No. 3 Naples at No. 2 Jesuit
5A: No. 3 Land O’ Lakes at No. 2 Orlando Jones
4A: No. 5 Lakewood at No. 1 Tampa Catholic
4A: No. 4 Anclote at No. 1 Lake Highland Prep
3A: No. 4 Calvary Christian at No. 1 Community School of Naples
3A: No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 6 Fort Myers Canterbury
2A: No. 3 Cambridge Christian at No. 2 Bayshore Christian