Basketball stock image

Novel coronavirus-related issues continue to be the norm – especially for tournament organizers.

Last week’s annual Wally Keller Classic in Punta Gorda was no different, but two Polk County boys basketball programs did their part to help the popular showcase take place. Bartow and Winter Haven made the trip to Charlotte High in conjunction with the Keller Classic’s 15th anniversary.

Lake Highland Prep, Windermere Prep, Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy and Fort Myers Dunbar were among teams to opt out of the two-day event, and last Friday’s Sarasota Booker-Barron Collier matchup was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns. However, Bartow and Winter Haven were able to play Saturday as part of the Day 2 schedule.

Bartow swept past Sarasota Riverview 89-66 – giving the Yellow Jackets their highest offensive output of the 2020-21 campaign – by controlling the second half. Winter Haven dropped a seven-point decision, 64-57, to a Naples High team playing its 21st game of the season.

The Yellow Jackets outscored the Rams – who entered the contest with a 14-4 record – 44-19 after halftime to erase a 47-45 deficit. The Yellow Jackets’ previous high point total this season was 78, happening against both Lakeland (Jan. 8) and Edgewater (Jan. 14).

Bartow, which trailed 10-0 in the first quarter before rallying, had five players score in double figures led by Walter Clayton’s 17 that included 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Daithan Davis (seven rebounds) netted 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and four made free throws, Malcolm Dewberry added 13 points, Tyrone Smith finished with 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting from 3-point range and Kjei Parker had 11 points.

Curtis Butler topped Sarasota Riverview with 14 points, but the Rams became the sixth team this season to allow 70 or more points against Bartow.

Winter Haven managed a 36-31 halftime lead against Naples, but the 18-3 Golden Eagles outscored the Blue Devils 18-11 in the third quarter and 15-10 in the fourth as Tony Green finished with a game-high 24 points.

Vintrell Moore paced a balanced effort with 14 points for Winter Haven, which shot 80 percent (12 of 15) at the free-throw line. Isaac Celiscar posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds; Tyler Williams had 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists; and Rolijah Hardy scored 10 points.

Bartow entered this week at 11-4 overall, which was also highlighted by last Friday’s 69-68 win over Kathleen.

The Yellow Jackets, who were without Clayton but received 14 points from Dewberry and 13 points and 10 rebounds from Jaiden Wynn in the winning effort, held on after building a 54-43 lead through three quarters. Davis also contributed a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, while Blake Denmark made all three of his field goal attempts and scored eight points.

Winter Haven’s loss to Naples stopped a three-game winning streak for the Blue Devils, who were 5-7 overall after 12 games. This week’s schedule featured a Monday matchup with Class 6A-District 6 counterpart Lake Howell – results were unavailable at press time – and a home game Thursday (Jan. 28) versus Victory Christian Academy.

As of this writing, the last regular-season playing date for boys basketball is Feb. 6 with district tournaments set to start a few days later.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prompted a modification to the winter sports season that included a waiver of team and individual minimum contest requirements as well as district basketball tournament seedings to be based on FHSAA Power Rankings. District champions and runners-up advance to the regional tournament.

Bartow ranked 27th in the state - and sixth overall in Class 6A – last week with a 15.745 power rating. The remainder of 6A-6 includes Edgewater (15.688), Lake Howell (4.349), Winter Haven (3.681), Poinciana (2.995) and Liberty (-3.763).

Check the FHSAA website for the most recent boys basketball rankings.