EAGLES 88 WILDCATS 65

CLEARWATER – Ten days between games wasn’t enough to knock East Lake out of rhythm.

The Eagles opened up play Thursday night in the 3rd Annual Prep Hoops Sun Bash Tournament with an impressive 88-65 win over Wildwood, the No. 1 ranked team in Class 1A.

East Lake buried 17 3-pointers, including 11 in the second half, to run away from the Wildcats. Senior Dionte Blanch led all scorers with 31 points. The Eagles trio of Blanch, Jordan Hillmon (25 points) and Dean Gabrelcik (24 points) scored 80 of East Lake’s 88 points and all 41 in the first half.

Hillmon hit seven 3s, followed by five from Blanch and three from Gabrelcik.

“That’s what we do,” East Lake coach Britt Taylor said. “It’s really kind of perfect to have Dionte surrounded by shooters because he really knows how to get people the ball.”

East Lake improved to 9-0 and will play the 8:30 p.m. game tomorrow against Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee. The Indians (11-3) played earlier Thursday and beat IMG White, 73-69.

“It’s unchartered territory for our program,” Taylor said of the Eagles’ fast start. East Lake went out of state and won a tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina before Christmas. “We’ve never been 9-0, so we’re playing the best basketball we’ve ever played in our program’s history. You definitely have to step back and appreciate it, but we have an extremely tough opponent looking us in the eyes tomorrow. We really just have to stay focused and locked in on our goals.”

East Lake entered this week at No. 2 in Class 6A behind Bartow and moved into MaxPreps.com’s state Top 10 for the first time in program history. The Eagles are No. 9.

Thursday night wasn’t a wire-to-wire victory for East Lake. Wildwood’s height and length advantage helped allow the Wildcats to lead 20-16 after one quarter.

“Big, tall, fast, athletic,” Taylor said of Wildwood. “They’re the number one team in 1A, they were state finalists last year and they have one of the better players that we’ve played in (Marcus Niblack). It was a really good test and that’s why we came here, to get tested, and our guys definitely stepped up to the challenge.”

Wildwood blocked five East Lake shots in the first half and led deep into the second quarter until Blanch nailed a 3 from the right wing with 2:25 remaining. That shot put the Eagles up 30-27 and they never trailed again.

Hillmon and Blanch hit a pair of 3s in a 5-second span that pushed a three-point lead to nine and the advantage only grew from there.

Niblack had a big night for the Wildcats, scoring 30 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

The Sun Bash Tournament features 16 teams separated into two brackets. East Lake is playing in the Sun Bracket and the other semifinal will be played between Sanford Seminole (No. 1 in Class 7A) and Jacksonville Paxon (No. 2 in Class 4A).

Seminole advanced by beating host Calvary Christian in Thursday’s late game, 67-60.

Representing Pinellas County in the Bash Bracket is Clearwater High. The Tornadoes played prior to East Lake-Wildwood and beat Sickles 54-53 when Max Jones (30 points) put back his own miss with 4.8 seconds remaining.

Clearwater will play Lakeland Victory Christian tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The Storm defeated Land O’ Lakes, 72-66.

BOX SCORE:

W – 20 – 12 – 14 – 19 --- 65

EL – 16 – 25 – 22 – 25 --- 88

TOP PERFORMERS:

Wildwood (9-2)

Marcus Niblack – 30 points, 7 rebounds

Kyler Rodmon – 8 points, 6 rebounds

Joe Poyser – 8 points, 5 rebounds

East Lake (9-0)

Dionte Blanch – Game-High 31 points, 5 3-pointers

Jordan Hillmon – 25 points, 7 3-pointers

Dean Gabrelcik – 24 points, 3 3-pointers