By Bryan Levine and Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
LEMON BAY vs. LABELLE
ENGLEWOOD — The telling sign so far this season for the Manta Rays has been their third quarters.
On Thursday night, they had a big one.
Lemon Bay High School turned a seven-point game into a blowout with a 26-point third quarter, rolling to a 74-54 victory over LaBelle in the teams’ first game of the Ryan D. Provencher Holiday Shootout in the Manta Rays’ home gym.
Keegan Wyman led Lemon Bay with 19 points — including three 3-pointers — and Jake Comer recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds on a night when he also nailed three shots from beyond the arc. The Manta Rays also got 10 points apiece from Hayden Wolff and Luke Morrill, who also made two 3-pointers.
That quartet scored 24 of Lemon Bay’s 26 points in the third quarter, which propelled the Manta Rays (6-4) to a 63-43 lead after 24 minutes.
“Statistically over the last few games, the games that we’ve played the best in we’ve either been tied or won the third quarter, and the games that we’ve lost in we’ve lost the third quarter,” Lemon Bay coach Sean Huber said. “I really challenged them physically and mentally to win the third quarter and they came out and responded perfectly.”
Bryce Hall scored a game-high 21 points for the Cowboys (6-5), which included four 3-pointers. Joe Vidaurri also made four from downtown — all in the first half — and LaBelle scored 15 of its 30 first-half points from beyond the arc.
The Cowboys’ deep shooting was the only thing keeping them in the game and the only reason the Manta Rays led just 37-30 at halftime. LaBelle was using its shooters as screeners to get open looks, something Lemon Bay quickly adjusted to at halftime.
“We went into the locker room and our coaches told us to pick up our energy and we’re going to win on defense. We went out and did that,” Comer said.
“Our defense leads to offense,” Wyman added. “We pressured the ball more and we switched everything.”
The Manta Rays opened the second half on a 12-4 run and never looked back as Wyman and Comer each hit treys during that breakout. That run also included a ridiculous sequence by Comer where he grabbed one rebound and missed four tips at the basket before finally converting on the fifth try to put Lemon Bay up 49-34.
Ball movement was key all night for Lemon Bay, aided by seven assists from Cade Huber, who also scored eight points. Wyman and Comer got a ton of wide open looks throughout the game, not only from Huber, but also from working the ball inside the post and back out.
That’s something their head coach has been preaching.
“They’re great shooters but I keep trying to impress upon them that their shooting is always better when the post touches the ball first,” Huber said. “It makes their defenders play off and get down in the paint to help on those guys and it gives them more of a window of opportunity to get off a balanced shot. When we make what we call, “one-pass jacks,” the defense doesn’t have to play any defense. That shot is always available so I’m challenging them to be more disciplined on offense, move the ball, use the post and it’ll get you a better look.”
LEMON BAY 74, LABELLE 54
LaBelle 17 21 13 13 —54
Lemon Bay 21 16 26 11—74
LaBelle (54): Bryce Hall 21, Joe Vidaurri 14, Cooper 6, Vargas 5, Deleon 2, Hernandez 2, Molina 2, Estes 1, Yates 1. Totals: 19(10) 6-12 54.
Lemon Bay (74): Keegan Wyman 19, Jake Comer 11, Luke Morrill 10, Hayden Wolff 10, Huber 8, Bottenfield 4, Caron 4, Reid 4, Brady 2, Gomez 2. Totals: 26(9) 13-19 74.
NORTH PORT vs. LAKE HIGHLAND PREP
ENGLEWOOD — A 13-point deficit was too much for North Port High School to overcome against Lake Highland Prep Thursday night.
The Bobcats battled back late to pull to within a point of the Highlanders but ultimately ran out of gas in their opening game of the Ryan D. Provencher Holiday Shootout at Lemon Bay High School.
Thanks to 16 points from Nick Honor and 10 apiece by EJ Jimenez and Jaxson Strates, Lake Highland held on to defeat North Port 54-45, snapping the Bobcats’ four-game winning streak in the process. Zach Babut scored 11 points and Ben Via added 10 more in the loss for North Port.
“Getting down early and using so much energy to get back into it kind of wore our legs down and you could see it there at the end where we’re trying to hit a 3-point shot,” North Port coach Ryan Power said. “They’re a little fading, their legs aren’t there and then they ended up scoring a couple of times on us.”
The Highlanders (4-6) built a 40-27 lead late in the third quarter but went ice cold in the fourth. They suddenly found themselves leading just 46-45 with under two minutes to play when Babut came away with a steal and converted it into a layup for the Bobcats (8-3).
Bryton Belvin answered Babut’s bucket with an offensive rebound and putback on the other end to push the lead back to three and North Port couldn’t find the basket again. The Bobcats nearly tied it on the next possession down the floor but Bryan O’Boyle’s three-point attempt wouldn’t rattle home.
Lake Highland put the game away with six straight makes at the free-throw line as North Port scored just seven points in the final quarter.
“Maybe there were tired legs and we had some new guys in different spots. Usually we’re not going for a three there at the end,” Power said. “Early in the season like this, you could see that we’re not used to being in that position and our shots came up short a couple of times and we did not do a good job on the offensive glass off missed shots.”
The Bobcats trailed for most of the night and dug themselves into a six-point hole after one quarter that deepened to nine by halftime. The Highlanders could’ve put the game away with a 13-point lead in the third quarter but the Bobcats ended the frame with an 11-4 run to head into the fourth trailing just 44-38.
LAKE HIGHLAND 54, NORTH PORT 45
North Port 10 12 16 7 — 45
Lake Highland 16 15 13 10—54
North Port (45): Zach Babut 11, Ben Via 10, D. Babut 6, Oliver 6, Baker 5, Cohen 5, Graff 2. Totals: 18(4) 5-10 45.
Lake Highland (54): Nick Honor 16, EJ Jimenez 10, Jaxson Strates 10, Dixon 8, Yurkiewicz 4, Belvin 2, Horowitz 2, Mascarenhas 2. Totals: 19(4) 12-15 54.
PORT CHARLOTTE vs. TARPON SPRINGS
ENGLEWOOD — Port Charlotte’s boys basketball team had no clue who its opponent would be less than six minutes prior to the scheduled tipoff Thursday night.
The Pirates were set to face Piper for the teams’ opening game of the Ryon D Provencher shootout at Lemon Bay, but the Bengals never showed up.
Instead, Tarpon Springs, which had just finished playing a game against Naples, stepped up and didn’t allow Port Charlotte to waste a trip to Englewood.
“Just to help out the other teams, that’s what these tournaments are about anyways,” Tarpon Springs coach Jerry Woodka said, who added he’d never coached two high school games back-to-back like that before.
The Golden Eagles were not rewarded for their generosity, as Port Charlotte won 61-43.
“No,” Specht said as to if he’s ever had that short of notice on an opponent. “I knew a little bit about them because we got to watch them right beforehand, so that was good. You can expect to be a little sluggish with a team being thrown in at the last minute, and they just played a game so they weren’t really into it either.”
The sluggish situation gave the game more of an exhibition scrimmage feel, as neither team called many timeouts or fouled in typical fouling situations.
However, the Pirates led the entire game, with their largest coming at the end. The Golden Eagles (2-6) brought it as close as a three-point game to close the third quarter, but Port Charlotte’s 25 points in the fourth quarter allowed them to coast to a victory against a team in foul trouble.
As in most games, Sean Price had a team-high 17 points for the Pirates (9-1), and added six rebounds and two steals.
It was a different cast behind Price on Thursday, however, as key role players Tyler Perry, Klayton Morris and Shemar Fleurissant were unavailable. Perry has to sit for a pair of games after being ejected from last week’s contest against Charlotte.
Morris suffered a concussion on a hard foul underneath the basket in that game. He’s expected to be healthy to return by the end of winter break. Fleurissant was just out of town.
With the absence of those three, Elijah Johnson stepped in and had a big impact. The senior scored 11 points and had a game-high nine rebounds along with two blocked shots.
“He’s really been coming on lately,” Specht said of Johnson. “Monday night after the tough loss, I said Elijah was the bright spot. He’s playing hard. He’s a senior. He wants to be competitive and he wants to be good. We just have to get some other guys to buy into what he does and we’ll be fine.”
Alex Romero and Brandon Gainey also made big contributions with seven points each while Bryce Cleveland added five.
Some players were called up from the junior varsity squad to fill the holes on the bench, and freshman Luke Ulmaniec made the most of his opportunity, sinking a pair of 3-pointers in the game’s final 30 seconds.
“He’s one of the best shooters in our program,” Specht said. “He’s hit a bunch (of 3-pointers) on JV this year. I had some spots, so we brought up a couple of freshman and gave them a chance to get in there and get fired up.”
Port Charlotte and Tarpon Springs were initially scheduled to play each other Friday night in the shootout, but with Piper’s no-show, the Pirates will be one-and-done.
PORT CHARLOTTE 61, TARPON SPRINGS 43
Tarpon Springs 6 12 15 10 — 43
Port Charlotte 15 11 10 25 — 61
Tarpons Springs (43): Jerome Fowler 22, Michael Ashley 10, A. Fowler 4, Woodka 2, Reaces 2, Saunders 1. Totals: 17(4) 4-9 43.
Port Charlotte (61): Sean Price 17, Elijah Johnson 11, Gainey 7, Romero 7, Ulmaniec 6, Cleveland 5, Perez-Dunn 5, Campbell 2, Carr 1. Totals: 22(5) 12-19 61.