Getting over the hump is what it’s all about for Clearwater this year.
Ever since reaching regionals in the 2010-2011 season, the Tornadoes have stumbled one step short. Seven straight years their season ended with a district semifinal loss.
Is 2019 the year Clearwater gets itself back into regional play?
The way it looks heading into next week’s district tournament, the Tornadoes are ready to break that trend.
And they may get to do it on their home court.
Clearwater hosts the Class 7A District 9 tournament from Feb. 12-15 and enters as the No. 1 seed. Friday’s 58-55 win at Largo improved the Tornadoes to 9-1 in league play, with the only loss coming Dec. 12 at Boca Ciega, 62-44.
The top seed is nice, but it guarantees nothing. District 7A-9 has been one of the deepest, if not most erratic, leagues in the area this season. Clearwater lost to Boca Ciega by 18, then beat them by eight. It blew out Largo by 34, then got pushed to the limit in Friday night’s three-point win. Northeast was beating Clearwater at halftime last Wednesday before falling by nine, but the first head-to-head ended in a 22-point Tornadoes victory.
The point is this: All top four seeds can beat each other on any given night. Clearwater will enter as the favorite and has to beat two of those top four teams to earn its first district championship since 2010-2011. Just getting that first win in the district semifinals, though, will at least guarantee a regional berth.
North Pinellas’s other promising postseason hopeful is East Lake.
The Eagles entered Saturday’s Ulrich Classic at Wiregrass Ranch at 16-4 overall and 8-2 in District 8A-10 competition. Nice record, but not quite nice enough for the top seed come tournament time Feb. 12-15 at Palm Harbor University. Climbing to the top of the league standings is difficult with the King of the Hill, a.k.a. St. Petersburg, guarding the peak.
The Green Devils reached the state final four three times in the past four years, including two state runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2016.
The Eagles last regional playoff appearance came three seasons ago, entering as a district runner-up after losing to St. Pete in the finals. Last year’s season came to an end with a 93-90 shootout defeat to St. Pete in the league semifinals. The Green Devils were beaten by Countryside in the finals but went on to reach the Class 8A final four.
As a top-two seed, East Lake will have a similar path to the district finals as Clearwater. Both leagues consist of six programs and the top two seeds in both get first-round byes. That means one win in the semis and regionals are locked up.
For East Lake, that will most likely mean dealing with No. 3 Seminole in the district semifinals, a team it’s beaten twice by a combined 56 points. St. Pete will have the winner of Countryside and PHU, teams the Green Devils handled with ease this year.
East Lake’s losses to St. Pete have been by 12 and 18 points. A repeat of last year’s 183-point affair is unlikely, but the Eagles will need to find away to handle St. Pete’s pressure defense, minimize turnovers and score the basketball. East Lake’s averaging 74 points a night against opponents not named St. Pete. Against the Green Devils, the Eagles put up an average of 47 in two head-to-heads.