By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — The entire crowd went silent with 1:03 remaining on the clock in a back-and-forth boys basketball game between Charlotte and North Port High School back in December.
You could’ve heard a pin drop at the time.
Except, instead of a pin, there was only Mackengie Simon, face-down on the ground, underneath the basket, writhing and screaming in pain.
“I was scared because I didn’t think I was going to play again,” Simon said. “It was excruciating. Out of 10, it was like a 25. It was so painful. I knew right away I dislocated it.”
Eventually, EMS came and removed Simon on a stretcher. He didn’t get to finish the contest — one in which he scored a game-high 16 points in a 49-45 Charlotte loss — because he dislocated his elbow when he fell to the ground after attempting to block a shot.
But the loss for the Tarpons was greater than just one game. It looked like their best player, who was averaging 11.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game over the first seven games, was going to be out for the season.
“It was frustrating because he was playing at such a high level at the time,” coach Tom Massolio said. “The way it looked, I didn’t think there was any chance he could come back. It was a pretty bad dislocation. Originally, the trainers said it was a very, very slim chance.”
After about a week, Simon realized he wasn’t going to miss the entire season, and made a speedy recovery. He played in three games to close out the regular season, and he will be with Charlotte as they play in this week’s District 7A-10 tournament where they are the No. 1 seed.
Before he returned, Simon had to sit on the sidelines and watch his team beat Port Charlotte twice, lose to North Port one more time and play seven district games.
“It was disappointing because I would like to be out there and help them win. … The losses were harder (to miss),” he said. “It was great (when I returned). When I was able to run at the first practice, it felt good.”
Simon returned for an 80-42 win against Bishop Verot on Jan. 25. He scored six points and had six rebounds in with very limited time.
With Simon, the Tarpons began their district schedule with a record of 3-1. Without him, they still managed to go 6-2, even though there hasn’t been one full game this season in which they’ve been 100 percent healthy.
Among others, Simon missed 16 games, including one after his return when a flu bug claimed him and Trevor Bokon. Will Batts was suspended for two games and has missed time from being banged up.
Kenny Scribner and Jayden Grant missed the start of the season, still playing for the football team. Brian Hundt has been out since winter break. Ahmad Johnson has missed some time.
The list could keep on going.
“We have a lot of guys who have dealt with a tremendous amount of adversity,” Massolio said. “When you have five sophomores and a freshman, first of all, you have to deal with the speed of the game. Then you have injuries, we got hit by the flu bug, but we’ve been able to just play and be in games. To get the No. 1 seed, we’re very fortunate to do that.”
The emergence of Johnson, who is averaging 13 points and four rebounds a game, and the other sophomores has been a big reason the Tarpons barely skipped a beat without Simon.
With the No. 1 seed comes a first-round bye, so Charlotte needs just one win to clinch a regional berth and two wins for a district championship. Both of those would be home games for the Tarpons.
With the regular season coming to a close, here’s how our teams did in intra-area games: Port Charlotte 4-2, Charlotte 3-3, North Port 2-2, Lemon Bay 1-3.
There’s still potential for two more games between those four teams. If Lemon Bay defeats North Fort Myers Tuesday night, the Manta Rays will travel to Punta Gorda for the District 7A-10 semifinals. The winner of that game could face Port Charlotte in the title game, if the Pirates were to make it through their side of the bracket.
North Port benefits from being the best team in a three-team district. With a semifinal-bye, the Bobcats are guaranteed a trip to regionals whether they win or lose their only district tournament game on Friday. The Bobcats were 4-0 against Riverdale and gulf Coast in the regular season.
The Manta Rays will be hosting the Red Knights Tuesday night in the opening round. In two games this season, the away team won each time. Lemon Bay’s victory was 68-57, while the loss was a 69-67 heartbreaker.
The first-round matchup for Port Charlotte should prove to be no problems, as the Pirates defeated Ida Baker by a combined 79 points in two games during the regular season.
Season record: 14-11 (9-3 in District 7A-10)
Last week: 2-0
Season record: 14-10 (6-6 in District 7A-10)
Last week: 0-1
Season record: 15-8 (4-0 in District 8A-12)
Last week: 1-1
Season record: 20-3 (9-3 in District 7A-10)
Last week: 2-0
Player School GP PPG
Sean Price Port Charlotte 23 23.1
Keegan Wyman Lemon Bay 21 14.8
Ahmad Johnson Charlotte 21 14.1
Jake Comer Lemon Bay 22 12.7
Bryan O’Boyle North Port 14 11.5
Shemar Fleurissant Port Charlotte 22 11.2
Mackengie Simon Charlotte 11 11.0
Ben Via North Port 23 9.8
Gene Oliver North Port 23 9.2
Jake Haas Charlotte 25 9.1
Tyler Caron Lemon Bay 22 9.0
Luke Morrill Lemon Bay 23 8.9
Zach Babut North Port 23 8.5
Hayden Wolff Lemon Bay 21 8.1
Will Batts Charlotte 23 8.0
Player School GP RPG
Sean Price Port Charlotte 23 10.2
Mackengie Simon Charlotte 11 8.9
Will Batts Charlotte 21 7.0
Hayden Wolff Lemon Bay 21 6.5
Ahmad Johnson Charlotte 22 5.5
Bryan O’Boyle North Port 14 5.3
Brandon Gainey Port Charlotte 22 5.1
Tyler Caron Lemon Bay 22 4.9
Zach Babut North Port 23 4.7
Shemar Fleurissant Port Charlotte 22 4.6
Bryson Thieme North Port 23 4.3
Jake Haas Charlotte 23 4.2
Ben Via North Port 23 3.8
Brandon Graff North Port 21 3.5
Player School GP APG
Cade Huber Lemon Bay 22 3.9
Brandon Graff North Port 21 3.7
Sean Price Port Charlotte 23 3.7
Zach Babut North Port 23 3.6
Michael Reid Lemon Bay 23 3.1
Klayton Morris Port Charlotte 23 2.8
Bryan O’Boyle North Port 14 2.5
Trevor Bokon Charlotte 21 2.3
Gene Oliver North Port 23 2.0
Jayden Grant Charlotte 21 2.0
Kenny Scribner Charlotte 19 1.9
Shemar Fleurissant Port Charlotte 22 1.8