By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ARCADIA — In Charlotte High School’s first boys basketball game of the new year, it looked very different than it did in 2016.
The Tarpons were without two of their best players in Will Batts and Mackengie Simon, plus they were missing a key role player in Brian Hundt. But that didn’t stop them from holding on for a 69-67 win over DeSoto County to begin 2017.
“We’ve got to just play,” Charlotte coach Tom Massolio said. “We have confidence in all of our kids, no matter who we put out there. I’ve told them that since day one. We have a lot of young kids up, and I’ve said whoever we put out there, we expect them to win.”
In Massolio’s 20 years as head coach for the Tarpons’ varsity team, he says he’s never had a starting five consisting of only sophomores and freshmen.
“I haven’t started anything like that since I was a JV coach,” Massolio said. “We had some guys who weren’t around for different reasons, and I thought our young kids played well.”
Sophomores Makai Reaves, Jayden Grant, Kenny Scribner and Ahmad Johnson, along with freshman Faustin Phanor, all got the start for Charlotte. Massolio had to shuffle his lineup with injuries to Hundt and Simon and a two-game suspension for Batts after an ejection in the Tarpons’ previous game.
Reaves led the starters with 17 points, including four crucial free throws in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs reached their 10 second-half foul limit with four minutes, 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter, which meant Charlotte (7-4) just needed to hit its free throws to hold on for a win.
The Tarpons were 13 for 19 from the line in the final quarter, as they managed to hold on to what was an 11-point lead with 5:30 remaining in the game. Even though there was a young starting five, it was a senior who allowed Charlotte to build up that big lead.
Jake Haas came off the bench to score a game-high 20 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers in the early portion of the third quarter.
“It looked like a game right after Christmas when you haven’t played, but we got the W,” Massolio said.
DeSoto County’s Tyler Vest took a long 3-point attempt in the closing seconds to try to give his team a lead, but couldn’t hit it, ending his night with a team-high 18 points.
Charlotte either led or was tied with DeSoto County for all but 4.5 seconds of the game, when a Jordan Laweson 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a brief lead. But Reaves’ buzzer-beater to close the half allowed the Tarpons to head into the locker room up 32-30.
Three-pointers were a double-edged sword for DeSoto County (1-10) in the loss. The Bulldogs’ 11 baskets from long range are what kept them in the game, but it was also the many more misses – especially early in sequences – which kept them from scoring in bunches.
“They have the green light to shoot it,” DeSoto coach Darrel Nicklow said. “We’re not very tall, so that’s how we have to try to play fast. If it’s falling, it’s falling, but if it’s not, it can get us out of the game.”
Lawson and Arnold Mele each had 12 points for the Bulldogs, and Mehemiah Hillard also chipped in with 10 points.
For Charlotte, Johnson had 10 points and seven rebounds. Scribner had six points, four assists, three steals and three rebounds. Phanor filled in nicely for Batts with six rebounds, and scored all four points from the free-throw line.
CHARLOTTE 69, DESOTO COUNTY 67
Charlotte 15 17 19 18 — 69
DeSoto 12 18 18 19 — 67
Charlotte (69): Jake Haas 20, Makai Reaves 17, Ahmad Johnson 10, Scribner 8, Phanor 4, Ingle 4, Bokon 4, Grant 2, Lee 1. Totals: 19(9) 22-35.
DeSoto County (67): Tyler Vest 18, Arnold Mele 12, Jordan Lawson 12, Nehemiah Hillard 11, Hinson 6, Nicklow 4, Elrod 13, Wilson 1. Totals: 23(11) 10-15.