It may have been Winter break during the Port Charlotte boys basketball team’s game against Victory Christian on Friday afternoon, but the Pirates came out with the focus and intensity of a team battling in the playoffs.
Port Charlotte (11-0) played suffocating defense on Victory Christian in the New Year’s Shootout at Lehigh Senior High School, holding the Storm (7-3) to just two points in the first quarter and 35 total points in a 54-35 win.
“I just told them, I said, ‘Hey, guys you won that game because you came out and gave up one basket in the first quarter,’” Pirates coach Kip Rhoten said. “It’s not like it’s a shabby team, it’s the third ranked team in 2A.
“They’ve won some ball games and they’ve played some good competition, so to hold them to two points? Yeah, that’s pretty pleasing. Because when you do that to somebody, I don’t care who you play, you’re gonna be in the ballgame.”
Wil Rodriguez scored on a layup for the Storm with 45 seconds left in the first quarter, but the Pirates had already built themselves a 14-2 lead.
Pirates forward Brandon Gainey got his team into rhythm early as he drove the baseline and dunked over two Storm defenders. Minutes later, he threw down an alley-oop slam he received from Alex Romero as Port Charlotte put its athleticism on display.
Though Victory Christian started to finally find its shots and scored 12 second-quarter points, it wasn’t enough.
“That was probably one of our best defensive games of the year to be real,” Pirates guard Shemar Fleurissant said. “We only had like 50 points, but we rely more on our defense than offense because if we play good defense, we’ll get it going on offense.”
With starters Tyler Perry, Alex Romero and Gainey in early foul trouble, Fleurissant helped the Pirates hold off the Storm as he stole the ball twice and scored seven points in that quarter. Role players Logan Rogers, Gerald Robinson and Walter Johnson also all chipped in points to hold on to the lead.
“I go back to giving the seniors credit,” Rhoten said on the team playing well as a unit. “I watched them even this past week. I brought some JV boys up throughout the holiday and I watched some of the seniors take some of what I call my freshmen or sophomore JV kids and partner up with them for shooting drills. I didn’t tell them to do it. They on their own took the young guys and said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be my partner.’ So they’re already trying to lay the foundation. This team just has ‘it.’ They’re a special bunch.”
Despite the quick deficit, Victory Christian wouldn’t go down without a fight. Seven points from Christian Flores and some improved defense allowed the Storm to pull within 10 as they trailed 39-29 heading into the final frame.
However, it would take more than that to throw the senior-laden Pirates off their game. Port Charlotte stole the ball four times and Romero scored all eight of his points down the stretch as the Pirates remain undefeated.
“I think (Victory Christian) cut it to 10 or nine points at one point,” Rhoten said. “But I liked it. They re-focused and kind of just pulled away. I was very pleased with that.”