By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — The stakes couldn’t have been any higher for a regular season game on Thursday between the Charlotte and Cape Coral boys.
A win for the Tarpons would’ve all but secured the No. 1 seed in the upcoming District 7A-10 tournament. A loss meant they’d no longer control their destiny at locking up the top seed, and could fall as low as No. 3.
Despite leading by as many as five points early in the fourth quarter, Charlotte was unable to hang on for the win, falling to Cape Coral 64-58. The Seahawks win now makes their home game Tuesday against Port Charlotte a likely battle for the tournament’s top seed.
“I thought (Cape Coral) played a little bit tougher down the stretch and that’s why they won,” Coach Tom Massolio said. “We trailed early once again, battled back, took the lead, but they made the tough plays and the hustles plays to fuel them down the stretch.”
After losing the lead, the Tarpons (10-9, 8-3) were able to draw within two points late, but clutch work from the foul line in the closing minutes from Bryan Markovich and Jonnathan Moreno allowed the Seahawks (16-4, 8-2) to maintain the lead.
When Jake Haas hit a 3-pointer to give Charlotte a 46-43 lead with just over five minutes remaining, Cape Coral went on a 15-6 run to take the lead for good. The Seahawks kept picking up fouls during the run, a situation the Tarpons have used to win games late in the past.
But after Ahmad Johnson started his night 4-for-4 from the line, he missed five straight in the fourth quarter, which proved to be crucial.
“It was not one of our better defensive performances, but credit them. They’re a good offensive team. We just have to regroup and keep getting better,” Massolio said.
Johnson still had a team-high 20 points on the night. The guard scored nine of those points in the third quarter when Charlotte managed to forge a 38-38 tie after trailing for a majority of the first half.
The Seahawks led by as many as nine points in the second quarter, but were outscored in the middle two periods 29-22 to send the game into the final period even.
Charlotte overcame a rough first quarter and a half in which they trailed 28-17. The Seahawks had more offensive rebounds (nine) in that span than the Tarpons had in total (six). Cape Coral was 7 of 11 shooting in the opening period to gain the momentum.
Cape Coral’s Harwin Francois had a game-high 21 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter and a pair of 3-pointers when his team trailed in the fourth. Markovich finished with nine points and eight rebounds.
Will Batts had 13 points and five rebounds for Charlotte. Haas scattered eight points through his night.
As it currently stands, the Tarpons have three losses in the district with one game remaining against Island Coast (5-14, 0-10). Cape Coral and Port Charlotte (12-2, 8-2) each have two district losses.
Both the Pirates and Seahawks have one tough district game remaining following their matchup. Cape Coral still has to face North Fort Myers (6-10, 3-6). Port Charlotte has Lemon Bay (12-7, 5-4) remaining on the schedule.
If Port Charlotte were to beat Cape Coral and then Lemon Bay defeated the Pirates — giving three teams three losses at the top of the district — Charlotte would be the No. 1 seed on a tiebreaker.