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North High boys show hoops grit

January 25, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

It was certainly a very interesting week for the North Fort Myers High School boys basketball team, and it has proven to be a microcosm of its season.

Very talented and athletic, it also is very unpredicable. One moment they look like world-beaters, and the next they self-destruct, playing as five individuals rather than as a team.

The result is a 7-11 record where the Red Knights have at times played to the level of their competition, which this past week in home games against Port Charlotte and Lemon Bay was a good thing.

Article Photos

North Fort Myers High School basketball player Herbert Riggins brings the ball down the floor last week during a game against Port Charlotte.

The players know they can be a better team and they can play with the best when they put their minds to it and play together.

"We have to learn to come together. We're good, but we play around a little too much and don't take it seriously like we should. When we come together, we show what we can do," said starter Fa'najae Gotay. "

In those games, they showed another attribute they didn't know they had - grit, fending off adversity to force one game into overtime and win a second in the closing seconds.

On Tuesday against Port Charlotte, the question wasn't if the Pirates were going to win, but rather how long it would take before they forced a running clock as they took a 21-2 lead early in the second quarter.

Remarkably, North pecked away at the lead and got on a 10-0 run in the third quarter to get back in the game, eventually tying it on a Jordan Thomas steal and layup to force overtime.

The Red Knights ran out of gas as Port Charlotte's Sean Price scored 45 points in an 82-74 victory.

"We found some fire and settled in as the game went on. We made some plays in our transition game, and that's a big strength of our team right now," North coach Mack Mitchell said.

Unfortunately, Mitchell had to bench a couple players in the beginning for team issues, Couple that with several young players who are new to the program and the fact they hadn't been through anything like this, and it was a learning experience.

"Basketball is a streaky game. You're going to have your peaks and valleys and you have to control those valleys," Mitchell said. "I will say we've competed. It's the first year we've competed this well. I'm proud of how they play."

Three nights later, against Lemon Bay, things started much better as the frenetic pace benefitted the Red Knights, who raced to a 15-point lead in the second quarter.

The Manta Rays stormed back and took the lead by as much as five early in the fourth quarter.

"We slacked off a little and they came back. We had to fight for the rest of the game," said Gotay. "Coach told us to keep fighting and eventually the game would come back to us."

Just as North was about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Luis Alfonso and Herbert Riggins made key baskets to help the Knights retake the lead late.

Lemon Bay tied the game with 11 seconds left on Hayden Wolff 's outback off a rebound to tie the game 67-67. Instead of wilting, North drew up a play to stave off another overtime.

Joseph Wilkins inbounded at half court to Harris (16 points), who drove into the paint and used his height to drop in a six-footer.

"Coach drew me up a play to get me a bucket. Joe handed off to me and I was able to get to the rack. It was easy really," Harris said.

"It's a play my father brought up over at Cape Coral High School when he coached there. I remembered him doing that with me and I brought it out, the kids understood it, and we executed," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the team's spunk can be attributed to the school and the makeup of its students.

"We have a population that's hard working, determined and love to compete. We may have been undersized at times, yet we still play like we have a chip on our shoulders," Mitchell said.



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