LAND O' LAKES - Sunlake coach Bob Marinak hopes to attract some top-notch out-of-county boys basketball programs in future New Year's Invitational tournaments. In the inaugural tournament, he was able to attract Springstead and Bradenton IMG Academy to join the six Pasco County schools.
Marinak may regret accepting IMG as his Seahawks will face a much taller Panthers team tonight in the semifinals. Sunlake (8-5) will play IMG in the first of two semifinals after defeating Gulf 54-46 in one of four opening-round games Wednesday.
In the other openers, IMG defeated Wesley Chapel 62-48, Mitchell beat Zephyrhills 85-60 and Ridgewood downed Springstead 54-29. Mitchell (7-4) and Ridgewood (11-3), both Class 4A-7 foes, will play in the other championship semifinal game.
"We're going to do this (tournament) every year and hopefully we'll be able to get caliper teams like IMG," Marink said. "When their coach called and asked if they could play in the tournament, I said definitely. It's good for our kids to see teams that play at a high level. There are some teams we'll see that have one kid but not four or five."
IMG features two 6-foot-8 players – Dwight Powell and Andrew Davis. Powell, who scored 22 points against Wesley Chapel, is committed to Stanford and Davis has not committed but is leaning toward Brown.
Sunlake's inside-outside game was too much for Gulf (3-8) to handle. Pedro Pabon fed the Seahawks' Tyler Hisamoto and Tim Crews-Hill all night, giving Sunlake's inside players clean looks at the basket. Hisamoto finished with 22 points while Crews-Hill added 13. David Ramirez kept the Buccaneers close with 27 points.
"I actually had hoped we would work the inside-out a little better," Marinak said. "We got a little selfish in the second quarter and again in the fourth quarter. I thought we could get it inside a little more. I told the guys some games the guards are going to get good shot opportunities and in other games, the bigs are. When it's (the inside guys) turn, you've got to get the ball to them."
Wesley Chapel (5-6) was clearly out-sized against IMG and fell behind 12-0 to start the game. But the Wildcats battled back to cut the lead to 12-10 with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter and only trailed 16-10 after the first period.
But the size was too much for Wesley Chapel (5-6) to handle and the Panthers gradually pulled away in the second half.
"I'm very proud of my guys," Wesley Chapel coach Doug Greseth said. "That's one of the best games we've played all year. We're going against 6-9, 6-10 and we don't have a player over 6-1. We missed some lay-ups and some free throws and we could have been back in it. I was really proud of the way we came back after we got down early. We got down in the third quarter and we came back. We kept on fighting – we didn't lay down."
Ridgewood (11-3) came in having won last week in its own Christmas tournament, the William G. Hulton Jr. Ram Classic.
The Rams dominated the first quarter to put the game away early, outscoring the Eagles (3-9) 15-2 in the opening period.
They particularly dominated the glass, outrebounding Springstead 41-18. Emrah Hamzic led the way in that department with 11 boards.
Mike Wood and Jake Rauh each scored 12 points to share the game's high-scoring honors. Wood added five steals and seven rebounds.
"We weren't as sharp as I had hoped to be," Ridgewood coach Gary Anders said. "I thought we did a good job on the defensive end, especially as patient as Springstead was.
"Offensively, I thought we were kind of sluggish and a little bit tentative. But all and all, we got out with a good win and gave up less than 30 points, so I can't complain."
Mitchell got 25 points from Chad Jeckel and Mike Francis added 15 as the Mustangs jumped out to 38-22 halftime lead and cruised past Zephyrhills, who was playing without Coach Alan Reed. Reed missed the game because of a death in his family. Kyle Farrell led the Bulldogs with 16 while Devin McLeod and Akhil Mani scored 13 points each.