EAGLES 73 BULLS 55
LAND O’ LAKES – When East Lake’s hot, look out.
The Eagles opened Friday night’s Class 6A District 9 championship game against Wiregrass Ranch on fire and it propelled them to their third straight league title, winning 73-55.
East Lake hit on six of its first seven possessions. It would’ve been seven straight, but Mikey Shane’s drained 3-ball from the right wing got wiped out because he was called for an offensive foul before the shot.
Shane opened the game with a 3-pointer and East Lake never trailed, but Wiregrass Ranch didn’t let the Eagles run away with the title. Trailing 24-9 after one quarter, the Bulls opened the second quarter on an 11-2 run. Six points would be as close as Wiregrass Ranch would get, however, as East Lake and senior Dean Gabrelcik showed why they’re ranked by MaxPreps.com as the top Class 6A squad in the state.
Gabrelcik drained six of the Eagles’ 10 3-pointers Friday night while pouring in a game-high 28 points.
“That’s something that’s cool about this team because he hasn’t led us in scoring in a while,” East Lake Coach Britt Taylor said after the win. “It’s been Anthony (Bittar) and Mikey (Shane) the last couple weeks. And Dean doesn’t care. He’s just so unselfish and it’s everything for the team. But he was feeling it tonight. I was happy for him and he’s just such a good kid. He just doesn’t care who gets the shots, who gets the credit. If it’s his night, he’ll take it. If it’s not, he’s perfectly happy deferring to other people.”
It was definitely Gabrelcik’s night Friday and he got plenty of support. Sophomore Justin Kruszweski (11 points) nailed three 3s, sophomore Hunter Hurst (nine points) grabbed 11 rebounds and Shane and Bittar combined for 19 points while dishing out a number of assists.
Four Bulls finished in double figures scoring, led by 14 from Quincy Smith. Wiregrass Ranch trailed by 19 points entering the fourth quarter, but never quit fighting. Daniel DiSalvo dropped the deficit to 64-51 midway through the final period after converting an and-one opportunity.
Despite that lead not dropping below 13 points the rest of the game, Taylor said Friday’s second half can be a learning moment moving forward.
“Little upset but that’s all right,” Taylor said. “We needed that. I think we were feeling ourselves a little too much and they punched us in the mouth in that game. It gives us an opportunity to refocus.”
Players weren’t happy with their finishing effort, either, Taylor said. But, it’s a third straight district title. Also, the only ones in program history.
“I go into the locker room and their heads are down,” Taylor said. “They’re disappointed, and I kind of had to say, ‘You guys need to pick your heads up. This is our third district championship in school history.’
“Our school’s been open since 1983. I love that they’re not satisfied, but you’re 17-18 years old. You accomplished something. You have to look back and reflect and enjoy it. On Monday we can get back and go to work.”
Friday’s win allows East Lake to stay home and host the loser of the District 6A-10 title game between Largo and St. Petersburg on Feb. 18. Wiregrass Ranch will go on the road to that game’s winner.
WR – 9 – 18 – 12 – 16 --- 55
EL – 24 – 18 – 16 – 15 --- 73
Wiregrass Ranch (17-5)
Quincy Smith – 14 points (2 3-pointers)
Daniel DiSalvo – 13 points, 9 rebounds
Josh Martin – 12 points, 3 rebounds
DeShawn Mann – 10 points, 2 rebounds
East Lake (24-1)
Dean Gabrelcik – Game-High 28 points (6 3-pointers), 9 rebounds
Henry Hurst – 9 points, 11 rebounds (6 offensive)
Mikey Shane – 10 points, 5 rebounds
Justin Kruszweski – 11 points (3 3-pointers)