Basketball: Tough year for North Pinellas

TARPON SPRINGS — Winter break is a good time for high school basketball teams to check themselves.
It’s about the midpoint of the season, and pinpointing a defect or two to tweak now can end up paying off handsomely come district tournament time.
In North Pinellas this year, though, there are only two boys teams with realistic shots at playing postseason basketball: East Lake and Tarpon Springs.
The Spongers (11-2) are the Class 5A District 8 favorites this season and are a perfect 8-0 in league play.
Coach Jerry Woodka runs out a relatively young team each night but is getting some exciting play from juniors Scottie James, Trai Halton and Mitch Wilcox and sophomore Israel Atkins in the post. James is arguably Pinellas County’s top shooter and Halton, a newcomer from Florida’s East Coast, continues to improve with his new teammates.
It appears that Land O’ Lakes and perhaps up-and-down River Ridge will offer Tarpon Springs its only resistance, but a couple solid non-league contests should prepare the Spongers for bigger postseason games down the road.
East Lake is only 5-3 overall as of Monday, but two of those losses have come against quality opponents.
While the Eagles may not be blessed with the biggest or most athletic squad this year, they play with a fast-paced style that relies on the outside shot. When the 3-balls are falling, East Lake will have as good a shot as any to get through the Class 7A District 9 field.
The Eagles path to securing one of the top two league positions will be more difficult than their rival at Tarpon Springs. Top-seeded Seminole is handling nearly all of its Pinellas County opponents so far and Clearwater, even in a down year, is fully capable of picking up wins.
Both East Lake and Tarpon Springs have at least one holiday tournament game remaining this week before getting some time off until school gets back in session in January.
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