EAGLES 68 GREEN DEVILS 52
CLEARWATER – For anyone thinking East Lake’s 61-39 beating of St. Petersburg last week for the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship was a fluke, it was not.
Six days after that 22-point triumph that ended a lengthy losing skid to the Green Devils, East Lake dropped their nemesis again. And the Eagles did it in convincing fashion.
East Lake raced out to a 13-2 first-quarter lead and controlled Friday night’s Class 8A District 10 championship game from start to finish, winning 68-52.
“We just had to switch up the style a little bit,” East Lake coach Britt Taylor said of his team’s recent success against St. Pete. “The first two regular season games we played them straight up and they’re just flat-out more athletic than us, so we had to slow it down.”
The win gives East Lake (22-4) its first-ever district title and the Eagles will return to postseason play for the first time in four years.
The Eagles strategy helped limit St. Pete (24-4) to seven first-quarter points and the Green Devils rarely found a rhythm Friday.
“We really, really made an effort in the first two quarters to slow up the pace,” Taylor said. “If we could make them defend for 30-35 seconds and then attack we’d have much better options.
“We stuck with the same game plan and fortunately it worked out for us.”
East Lake led by as much as 14 in the first half and pushed that margin as high as 17 in the second. Four Eagles scored in double figures, with captain Dionte Blanch leading all scorers with 23 points.
“He’s our rock; it’s his team,” Taylor said of Blanch. “I told him at halftime, it’s your time. You’re our primary ball handler.
“They were hanging all over him and I’m just so proud of the kid. He deserves all the attention that he gets.”
Sophomore Dean Gabrelcik buried three 3-pointers during his 18-point night, including two in the second quarter that helped push East Lake’s lead into double-digits.
“He was big,” Taylor said of Gabrelcik. “He’s grown up this year. He’s only a sophomore and he went through his bumps and bruises early. He was special tonight. I’m super proud of him just to see his development over the season. It’s just been incredible.”
Also reaching double figures were Jordan Hillmon (14 points) and Dakota Speed-Ferris (12 points).
Deondre Earley paced the Green Devils with 13 points, followed by 12 from Alfonso Franklin and 11 from Omarie Sherrod.
East Lake’s league title allows it to stay home for next Thursday’s Class 8A region quarterfinal. The Eagles will host District 8A-9 runner-up Plant City. The Raiders (16-10) lost its championship game against Tampa Bay Tech (17-7), which will host St. Pete.
EL – 15 – 18– 12 – 23 --- 68
SP – 7 – 16 – 10 – 21 --- 52