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Clearwater girls’ balance on display vs. East Lake

The scoring opportunities are ample for everyone in a 63-42 win over the Eagles.
A young Clearwater team shows impressive chemistry, especially in the second half of a win over East Lake.
A young Clearwater team shows impressive chemistry, especially in the second half of a win over East Lake. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 16

CLEARWATER — “One more ... one more.”

That was coach Darian Dublin’s play-calling in a nutshell Friday night, insisting his young, talented Clearwater squad make the extra pass for cleaner shots. But that philosophy extended to every phase of the host Tornadoes’ game, eventually leading to an impressive 63-42 victory over East Lake.

Especially when Clearwater’s offense started to find itself in the second half, it was a tough quintet to defend. With sophomore Olivia Fuller (nine assists, nine rebounds, six points) embracing the role of facilitator, scoring flowed from the outside (sophomore Ace Sturdivant’s 15 points; freshman Beckham Hockley’s nine points, five assists) and the paint (junior Phillicia Jackson’s 13 points; sophomore Jade Price’s nine points, 10 rebounds). Tack on seven senior night points from Monae Jones in her final high school season and the scoring balance was impressive.

“It’s always about that extra pass,” Dublin said of a night where Clearwater (14-4) had 19 assists on 24 made baskets. “That’s the thing about getting them to understand about trusting your teammates. We’ll spread the ball around so everybody will get their scoring opportunities.”

“We were having a rough time getting going in the first half (grabbing a 29-18 advantage at the break) because we haven’t played in a little bit,” Sturdivant said. “But once we got going, it was good. When the momentum is going and everybody is flowing, it’s really fun.”

The Tornadoes pushed their lead as high as 22 with 5:20 left to play, preserving that edge despite scoring just two points in the final four minutes.

That’s where the “one more” thought process extended to defending East Lake (14-2) standout Whitney Rush, mainly getting one more person between the 1,000-point career scorer and the basket.

Jones and Price drew the one-on-one duties on Rush, deftly funneling her toward Kyleigh Welsh in the lane where the tall junior would either disrupt her flow or flat out block her shots. Rush had to work hard for her 22-point, nine-rebound stat line and this Tornado trio was why, especially Welsh and her 10 blocked shots.

“When I was a freshman, I’d almost foul out in the first half (trying to block shots),” Welsh said. “I’ve gotten better at actually watching the ball and not the person so now I foul less. I try to use my length as best I can.”

“Whitney is a top-10 player in the county and she can put up points,” Dublin said. “The key was not to let her sister (sophomore Sydney Rush, who scored three points with four steals) just sit out on the wing and hit 3s. We’ll contain one, maintain the other and limit the damage.”

Eagles sophomore Mia Stauffer contributednine points and seven rebounds as Clearwater successfully extended its hex over East Lake to at least 21 straight victories.

“We always look up to everybody who has ever played here and try to keep the record going,” Welsh said of a program with 11 20-win seasons in its past 13 years. “We want to keep the Clearwater name strong, not just with wins but how we play and how we present ourselves.”

And that attitude will keep consistently adding “one more” victory to the Tornadoes’ win column.