By Jeff Odom
The Wharton boys basketball team defeated its cross-town rival Freedom for the sixth straight time Jan. 23, winning the home matchup between the New Tampa programs 71-47.
Wildcats (20-3) coach Tommy Tonelli was pleased with his team’s performance — especially the seven seniors, each of whom scored in the victory.
“I’m just glad we were able to come out on this side of the scoreboard, because (Freedom’s) really improving a lot,” Tonelli said. “It’s tough enough to play a rivalry game like this, but to do it on senior night with all those emotions makes it tougher. … I’m just glad it worked out the way it did for our seniors.”
Not much went right for the Patriots (13-4) after Marcus Butler opened the game with a crowd-pleasing dunk in the first quarter.
Wharton stayed glued to Freedom’s top shooters, forcing 6-foot-7 senior center Brandon Patchan to pick up the offensive slack with a game-high 26 points.
Patriots coach Cedric Smith said his players committed too many errors and missed too many easy baskets, which cost them a chance at grabbing early momentum.
“We didn’t make easy shots that would have kept us in the game,” Smith said. “We missed too many chippy shots, and I knew we’d have to have our best game to beat them here, but I enjoyed the atmosphere. Just not the shellacking we got.”
The Wildcats were up by eight going into the second quarter and continued pounding away with a pair of 3-pointers by seniors CJ McGill (18 points) and Jaken Grier (11 points) to take a 35-18 lead at halftime.
“Coming into the game we knew they were going to be well-prepared, and they’re a good team,” McGill said. “We knew we had to come in here and fight because they are a lot better, and we just fought and fought.”
McGill went to work on defense in the second half, opening the third by blocking Butler.
That momentum set up baskets from Chase Litton (six points) and Sir Patrick Reynolds (nine points) as the Wildcats pulled away on runs of 14-4 and 10-2 to finish off Freedom in the fourth.
“That’s the best starting five I’ve ever played with in my life,” Reynolds said. “We executed our game plan and on offense, and I’m just very proud that I’ve got those guys.”
On the girls’ side, Freedom handed Wharton its fourth straight loss in dominating fashion.
The Patriots (20-2) defeated the Wildcats (9-12) 63-31 behind Georgetown-bound senior forward Faith Woodard’s game-high 19 points.
Freedom did not trail once after opening the game on a 15-0 run en route to burying its opponent with a 23-point lead at the break.
“Our offense really came out strong, especially in the first half,” said Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke.
Taylor Emery (14 points), Ashle Thompson (six points) and Woodard continued to overwhelm Wharton in the second half, outscoring the Wildcats 16-6 in the third to force a running clock for the final eight minutes.
“Games like this will really help us big time, especially as we head into the district tournament,” Pacholke said.
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