The Springstead Eagles (7-5) defeated the Robinson Knights (7-6) by a 68-58 margin in Round 1 of the 9th Annual Greg O’Connell Shootout on Wednesday evening. The Red, White, and Blue were basically the only game in town as most of the in-county high schools do not resume play until next week. Hernando was the only other exception as they lost to Tarpon Springs in the Dunedin Holiday Tournament on the same night. Coming into the matchup, Springstead and Robinson were trending in opposite directions over their last six games, and that trend continued Wednesday. Head Coach Matt McGarry’s Eagles are now 5-2 over the span while the Knights are 2-5.
“This was a really good win for us,” Coach McGarry said. “Any time you can get a win against one of those Hillsborough County conference teams, that is a big deal because they kind of see everything every night. So, this was a really good win for us. I told our guys before the game this could be a season turning win for us because, in the last six games, I thought we have done a lot of good things to kind of move forward, learn, and be the team we are trying to be.”
The matchup was close throughout the first quarter with the teams locked at 17-17 before a pair of scores by Senior F Nick Cordero (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Senior G Niko Cordello (12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 threes) gave the home team the 21-17 advantage going into the second period. After a dry spell early in the frame, Springstead would set the tone for the rest of the game heading into the half. Robinson used a pair of threes by Sophomore G Zyon Floyd (22 points, 5 threes) and a layup by Junior G Jordan Mickens (17 points, 8 assists) in the first two minutes to swiftly take the lead back from the Eagles. It would prove to be their final lead of the night.
According to the Eagles’ head coach, the team faltered early before he swapped a trio of struggling bench players out and put the starters back in. Springstead then proceeded to go on a 14-3 scoring run with 4:18 left before intermission. The tear started with a Senior C Andrew Danchise layup and Junior F Zion McKenzie (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) contributed a layup of his own on a fast break later in the frame. Senior G Austin Nicholson (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists) stole the show in this stretch as he often does for the Red, White, and Blue. Nicholson nailed a short jumper before draining a three-pointer with 1:30 remaining and a layup just before time expired. The senior also batted the ball to Junior G Ryan Sayre (9 points, 8 rebounds) who immediately knocked down a trey of his own. The Eagles would keep the visitors at arm’s length for the entirety of the second half as they led by a game high 13 at the end of the third quarter and never trailed by less than four throughout.
“Austin is our everything,” Springstead’s coach said. “He leads us in scoring, he leads us in rebounding, he leads us in assists, he leads us in steals. He does everything for us. When he struggles, we struggle, but I feel like we are getting better around him. I think that has been the difference between the first part of the season and now going into the second. So, hopefully we can continue to get better around him, and I think we’ll be really tough.”
Looking ahead, the teams are now entering day two of the holiday tournament. The Knights will look to turn their fortunes around against the struggling Gulf Buccaneers (3-10) at 4:30. The Eagles will take on the formidable Archbishop McCarthy (9-2) later tonight at 7:30. McGarry and company will be looking for a stronger performance from their bench to help them emerge victorious over the Mavericks in the semifinal.
“Winning tonight was a big one,” said Coach McGarry. “We are going to have a tough one tomorrow, but in order for us to even hang tight tomorrow, we are going to need a little bit more bench contribution. I thought our guys did a fantastic job. Effort was never a problem. When they executed, they did a fantastic job and I’m very pleased with the effort.”