Last year, they played four times, twice in the postseason, in some of the most hard-fought games these two rivals have ever played against one another.
But this is a new season, and when Charlotte and Port Charlotte renew their rivalry at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Anthony P. Cicchella Gymnasium in Port Charlotte, there will be the same raucous scene, but both teams will have different looks.
Gone are Tyler Perry, Shemar Fleurrisant and Brandon Gainey for the Pirates and Makai Reaves, Kenny Scribner and Ahmad Johnson for the Tarpons.
But returners include Tyrik Gainer and All-Area selection Tre Carroll for Charlotte, and Walter Johnson and Colby Schmutz for the Pirates.
Last season the Pirates took three of four in the rivalry, but Charlotte’s lone win was huge, coming in the District 7A-10 championship game.
The 55-52 victory knocked Port Charlotte from the ranks of the unbeaten after 24 straight wins and forced the Pirates on the road for regionals. They then avenged their loss with a 47-44 triumph at the Wally Keller Gymnasium in the semifinals.
Neither team has been caught looking ahead to this game, as both handled their first two opponents.
But it will be a contrast of styles. Charlotte will use its experience, height and athleticism, while Port Charlotte will try to turn to game into a rugby scrum.
“We’ll just come out and fight and claw and scrap and get after it and try to do what we do. There are no magic tricks,” Port Charlotte coach Kip Rhoten said. “If it’s good enough, we’ll be pleased. If not, we’ll look at the video and keep working.
“The experience is going to help us. We have a lot of kids returning who have played Port Charlotte for two full years,” Charlotte coach Tom Massolio said. “We have great size and athleticism and that helps. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t play big.”
The key for Port Charlotte will be to stop Carroll, who if he’s on, can carry a team on his back to victory. Johnson said it will take a team effort to stop him and the Tarpons.
“They have a lot of length and they’ll try to control the tempo and shoot on us. We need to lock it in and box him out on rebounds,” Johnson said. “We faced someone 6-10 in our first game, so we’re familiar with handling height.”
Massoilo said: “Tre is a guy we count on every night. He’s started 50 games for us and he’s only a junior and has experience in these big-time games.”
Carroll said the key for the Tarpons is to take their time, run their offense and take smart shots.
“You can’t take bad threes because they’ll rebound and push the ball for layups on the other end. Their defense killed us last year,” Carroll said. “We’re much better prepared this year.”
While the teams aren’t in the same district or class anymore, it’s still Charlotte vs. Port Charlotte and it will still be a war.
“It will be a great game with a packed house. I enjoy seeing the fans you haven’t seen in a long time. It would be nice to have that crowd every game,” Rhoten said. “The kids grew up playing each other, but not being in the same class or district hampers it a little.”
“This is the best rivalry in Southwest Florida. I don’t think anybody plays in an atmosphere like we do. It’s a great experience for the kids with the atmosphere and energy,” Massolio said. “It’s a shame you don’t have that every game.”