Welch wills Williston hoops to win over Santa Fe

Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 12:31 a.m.

WILLISTON — One of the biggest trips of Deonte Welch's young life could wait.

The Gainesville Sun's small-school football offensive player of the year in 2009, Welch has committed to play football at Arkansas. But this weekend, he is going to take one last peek at the University of South Florida before making his college selection official next Wednesday on National Signing Day.

However, with Santa Fe making the bus ride to Williston on Friday night in a game showcasing the top two teams in District 5-3A, Welch wasn't about to let his Red Devil basketball teammates down.

It's a good thing, because the 6-foot-1 senior scored 16 points, pulled down nine rebounds, dished out four assists and snagged four steals to lead WHS to a 64-60 victory against the scrappy Raiders on Friday night.

“I had to be here,” said Welch, an all-state tailback who will play receiver in college. “I couldn't have my team go out here without me.

“(The USF coaches) understood I needed to be here.”

The seventh-ranked Red Devils (19-4, 8-0) led most of the way in what could be the second of three (and possibly four) meetings this season between the two schools (Williston won the first matchup, 73-63, on Dec. 11 in Alachua behind Welch's 20 points).

However, the tallest and the shortest starters for Santa Fe (13-8, 4-2) only let the deficit reach double figures for about two minutes early in the third quarter.

Then, 5-foot-10 junior guard C.J. Wakeley (game-high 25 points, three rebounds, two assists) and 6-6 junior center Ashton Lee (20 points, eight rebounds, two steals) led the Raiders on a 20-7 run, turning a 42-30 Williston advantage into SFHS's only lead of the night, 50-49, with 14 seconds gone in the fourth quarter. During that stretch, Wakeley scored eight and Lee seven points.

But the Red Devils bounced back with a 3-pointer by Paul King and a tip-in by Welch.

With 2:02 remaining, Wakeley sank a 3 to even the score at 56, but Isaac Floyd (14 points, four rebounds, four steals), Jacques Edwards and Deterion Ross combined for eight of the game's final 12 points to seal the win.

“(We lost because of) execution and turnovers, and we did not take good shots at the end,” SFHS coach Elliott Harris said. “(The Red Devils) are a veteran team with a lot of kids who play really hard, and they executed well late.”

Red Devils coach Steve Faulkner also praised his team's late poise, while singling out Floyd for accepting the second-half task of guarding the ultra-quick and skilled Wakeley, and 6-6 junior center James Hunt, who blocked four shots.

But in the end, a lot of the talk came back to the player who chose to participate in a game few would have blamed him for missing.

“Deonte is unbelievable,” Faulkner said. “It's the same thing on the football field. His will to win is unmatched. I don't know that I've seen any like him.

“I'm just glad we've got him.”

John Patton can be reached at 352-374-5074 or by email at pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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