Class is back in session throughout Pinellas County and plenty of area high school athletes kept busy over winter break.
Boys and girls basketball teams wrapped up late-December and early-January tournaments over the weekend with varying levels of success.
One program continuing its hot start into the new year was East Lake. The Eagles traveled to Sanford Seminole High for the Arrow Force Holiday Classic from Dec. 27-29 and came away champions. The took down Lake Worth Park Vista 72-65 to open the tournament, beat 2018 Class 4A state champion Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy 82-77 in the semifinals and then claimed the title by blowing out host Seminole 74-54.
East Lake also participated in the Clearwater Central Catholic Holiday Classic late last week and opened with a dominant 90-47 victory over Steinbrenner before playing Plant Friday afternoon. The Eagles entered the Plant game at 9-1 overall while climbing the statewide rankings on MaxPreps.com. After a Dec. 31 update, the website had East Lake at No. 26 in the state and No. 4 among Class 8A teams.
(UPDATE: East Lake lost the Plant game 59-48 before beating King and Pinellas Park to be at 11-2 overall heading into a Jan. 11 game at Seminole.)
Keeping the Eagles playing at such a high level is Dionte Blanch. The junior surpassed 1,000 points for his career last week, is averaging 23.2 a night and has scored 20-plus in eight straight games heading into last Friday night. Fellow junior Jordan Hillmon is putting up 16.2 per game and senior Dakota Speed-Ferris and sophomore Dean Gabrelcik are at or near double digits.
East Lake gets a week and two games to prepare for its next big night. The team’s lone loss this season came at home against Class 8A District 10 leader St. Petersburg. The undefeated Green Devils beat East Lake 65-53 on Dec. 13 and they’ll host the second of two head-to-heads on Jan. 15. St. Pete’s beaten the Eagles in all nine meetings since they began sharing a district in 2015-16.
Also looking good to start 2019 is Clearwater High. The Tornadoes entered its annual Clearwater High School Shootout with a 7-3 overall record. Prior to the shootout, Kristopher Foote’s team went 1-2 against a trio of programs from Ohio, Miami and Orlando at the competitive Nature Coast Christmas Tournament.
Clearwater’s only non-tournament loss came Dec. 12 at Boca Ciega, a team the Tornadoes trail in the District 7A-9 standings. Clearwater gets another important league game Friday night against Largo before taking park in the St. Pete High Shootout this weekend.
Four Tornadoes are scoring in double figures this season, led by junior Max Jones (16.6) and seniors Nirobi Peeler (12.2), Dawson Maxwell (11.3) and Gilbert Mendez (10.0).