North Pinellas basketball previews

Countryside and junior Carson Skinner, left, opened their season with a road win over Largo. The Cougars are the defending District 8A-10 champions.

Pinellas County sent two boys basketball programs into the state final four last year, but the 2017-2018 season wasn’t all that kind to teams in the northern reaches of the peninsula.

Countryside represented the lone North Pinellas program to reach the postseason after winning its first district championship since 1989. It was the Cougars’ second straight playoff trip, but they were tripped up again by Tampa Bay Tech in the first round. Countryside instead watched Class 8A District 10 runner-up St. Petersburg make a run to the state final four.

Pinellas’ other deep-running postseason program was Canterbury, which enjoyed its greatest season in school history by finishing as the Class 3A state runner-up.

Clearwater and East Lake were on the cusp of postseason play but couldn’t survive challenging district tournaments.

Countryside High – 2017-2018 Record: 20-7

Cougars teams from the last two years may have been the best in school history. The 2017-2018 squad featured nine seniors, meaning there is a lot of productivity to be replaced this year.

“We lost about 88 points a game from last year, so we’re talking JV kids and transfers that hadn’t played much together,” said Countryside coach Jeff Powers after the Cougars opened their new campaign with a solid 64-59 road win over Largo.

With guys like C.J. Williams, Matthew Berry and Nathan Tettenborn gone, a group of returners and newcomers like sophomore Mikey Shane, junior Alex Vitucci, junior Carson Skinner and senior Jared McGarrity will need to fill the void.

Last week’s opening win at Largo showed Countryside can play some good basketball and the Cougars get put back to the test this week. C-Side played at St. Petersburg on Tuesday night and host East Lake on Friday. Both are District 8A-10 matchups and will be huge come seeding time for the league tournament in February.

East Lake High - 2017-2018 Record: 16-10

East Lake was right there with Countryside and St. Pete last year, but not quite.

The Eagles were a playoff-worthy team stuck in a tough district. Only two can move on and East Lake didn’t have enough. They get back after it with a solid core of returning players capable of getting the Eagles back into the postseason after a two-year hiatus.

East Lake opened the season with blowout wins over Seminole (67-46) and Tarpon Springs (65-12). Leading the charge will be juniors Jordan Hillmon and Dionte Blanch, with sophomore Dean Gabrelcik and senior Dakota Speed-Ferris on the floor to put up numbers if teams try to lock down the tandem of juniors.

St. Pete enters the year as the favorite to win the District 8A-10 title, but, as mentioned, two teams advance out of each league. Friday’s game at Countryside will provide some insight as to who the Green Devils’ top contender may be come districts.

East Lake hosts St. Pete next Thursday, Dec. 13.

Clearwater High – 2017-2018 Record: 16-10

Clearwater’s finished with an above-.500 record five times in the past seven years but still hasn’t managed to return to the postseason since 2010-2011.

Similar to East Lake, the Tornadoes went 16-10 last year, but couldn’t get over the hump while playing in the competitive District 7A-9. Clearwater took eventual league champion Boca Ciega to double overtime in the district semifinals before falling 86-78.

The good news for Coach Kristopher Foote’s squad is that its top four scorers return this season. Seniors Dawson Maxwell, Gilbert Mendez and Nirobi Peeler and junior Max Jones all averaged double digits in scoring last year.

Clearwater opened its year by rolling over Dunedin (92-56) and Palm Harbor University (78-48). It’ll get its first test Thursday night at Seminole and could be 5-0 heading into a Dec. 12 showdown at Boca Ciega. The Pirates lost five seniors from last year and district runner-up Largo need to replace its top three scorers.

Clearwater advanced to the postseason 19 times in 22 seasons from 1990 to 2011 before the current drought. This could be the year the Tornadoes finally return.