ATHLETE OF THE WEEK
Wilbekin’s hot hand from the free-throw line lifts The Rock
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 12:17 a.m.
In a championship game dotted with top-tier prospects and Division-I signees, Mitchell Wilbekin did not need a high-flying dunk or a barrage of 3-pointers to spur The Rock to its first state title on Saturday.
A 6-foot-1 point guard, Wilbekin instead sealed his team's 64-56 win in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association finals against tournament host Jacksonville Arlington Country Day with 13 routine shots from the free-throw line.
Known by his coaches for his calm demeanor on the court, Wilbekin drilled 10 of his attempts from the charity stripe to finish with a game-high 15 points and wrap up SIAA Tournament MVP honors in the process.
“He's a very savvy point guard, and he plays beyond his years,” The Rock coach Justin Harden said. “The way he plays, he's already a senior, because he's always under control. He reads the ebb and flow of the game.”
Led by Wilbekin, the Lions made 25 of 31 shots from the free-throw line just a day after struggling to make 11 of 23 shots in an overtime semifinals win against Potter's House.
While Wilbekin again paced The Rock with team-best 13 points and five steals, including six points in the extra period, Harden was concerned his 32-win team's weakness would reappear in its title matchup.
“We just needed something special,” Harden said. “I addressed it after the game on Friday night. We know that free throws have been our nemesis in the four games we lost this year. … Sometimes in championship games, it brings out the best in some guys.”
With just two of his free-throw makes coming in the fourth quarter, Wilbekin did most of his damage against the Apaches' defense early on with drives into the paint. The Lions held just a one-point lead at halftime but eventually pulled away began to pull away with the foul count mounting on Arlington Country Day's frontcourt.
“He's was getting fouled quite a bit and was pretty aggressive taking the ball to the basket,” Harden said. “So he did a good job. He knocked down eight of his first 9 free throws.”
Though the Lions entered their 33-4 season supported by Wilbekin and 7-foot Kansas signee Joel Embiid, winning their state title has been an elusive pursuit in recent years. A non-FHSAA member since the 2010-2011 season, The Rock finished in third place at the SIAA tournament last year after falling to the Apaches in the semifinal round.
“It's everything to our boys program right now,” Harden said. “We hosted the event the past two years, and we were young. We got beat by ACD both years in the tournament semifinals. And so we just looked at it as the same opportunity as any of the FHSAA teams had to win their state championship.”
GLENN FEIDANGA, THE ROCK: A senior, Feidanga scored 10 points and brought down 13 rebounds in the Lions' 64-56 win Saturday against Arlington Country Day in the SIAA title game. The 6-foot-8 forward also had a strong performance on the boards in Friday's semifinals against Potter's House with nine rebounds and five points.
CLIF BRYANT, TRENTON: The senior catcher went a combined 6-for-10 at the plate last week with eight runs and eight RBI in wins against Cedar Key, Lafayette and Hilliard. Bryant also led the Tigers in extra base hits with two home runs, including a grand slam, and four doubles.
ASHLEY COHRS, OAK HALL: Highlighted by a six-goal outburst against Eastside, Cohrs scored nine times and dished four assists last week to help the Eagles beat the Rams and Trinity Prep.
SAVANNAH JERKINS, SANTA FE: A senior center fielder, Jerkins went 10-for-17 at the plate last week with eight RBIs and 11 runs. In five games, she had three doubles and two home runs, including a grand slam. Jerkins also pitched a no-hitter in a 13-0 win against Williston.
Boys track and field
RALPH WEBB, GAINESVILLE: A senior, Webb won the long jump at Saturday's Spruce Creek Invitational with a leap of 23 feet, 1 ½ inches. He also contributed to the third-place Hurricanes' victory in the 4x100 relay.
Girls track and field
CRYSTAL WILLIAMS, GAINESVILLE: At Saturday's Spruce Creek Invitational, the senior finished second in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 15.35 and snagged seventh place in the 300-meter hurdles in 50.71. Williams also contributed to the Hurricanes' 4x100 relay win.
HUNTER PARRISH, TRENTON: A senior center fielder, Parrish batted 6-for-11 last week with 11 RBI and seven runs scored. He also had two triples, a pair of doubles and belted a home run.
FLETCHER SIMMONS, P.K. YONGE: The sophomore infielder helped with Blue Wave go 2-1 last week on 6-for-10 batting with five RBI. On the mound, Simmons earned a pair of district wins against St. Augustine St. Joseph and St. John, pitching five total innings with 13 strikeouts and no earned runs.
COLLIN MCFARLAND, P.K. YONGE: McFarland, a junior catcher, went 5-for-11 at the plate with three RBI last week for the Blue Wave.
LILY JONES, GAINESVILLE: The sophomore midfielder led the Hurricanes with seven goals and two assists in their 16-1 victory last Wednesday against Fleming Island. Jones also controlled two draws and scooped four ground balls.
PERSEPHONE WAGLE, GAINESVILLE: A sophomore goalie, Waggle allowed just one score in a 16-1 win last Wednesday against Fleming Island and saved 7 of 8 shots on goal.
MADISON O'LEARY, OAK HALL: The junior controlled the Eagles' midfield with a team-high 14 ground balls in wins against Eastside and Trinity Prep. O'Leary also scored eight times and had one assist last week.
SHELBIE HUTTO, BELL: A sophomore pitcher, Hutto went 2-1 last week highlighted by a one-hit, 12-strikeout performance Thursday to help shut out Bronson.
FELICIA FALLO, ST. FRANCIS: The senior hit .400 in the Wolves' three games last week with three RBI and four runs scored. Fallo, a catcher, also threw out 10 of 18 base runners attempting steals.
MARY ALICE KLENK, ST. FRANCIS: The freshman first baseman hit .333 last week with three RBI, four runs and three extra-base hits. Klenk belted her first career home run last Tuesday to send the Wolves' 14-13 win against Bronson into extra innings.
SHELBEE BLACKBURN, SANTA FE: Blackburn a sophomore third baseman, hit 8-for-16 last week for the Raiders with eight runs scored and six RBI.
KENDALL WILLIAMS, TRENTON: Starting at shortstop as an eighth grader, Williams helped lead the Tigers to district wins against Bell and Hilliard on a combined 5-for-8 hitting. She homered once in each game, helping lead to six RBI and four runs scored.
KACEE LANGFORD, TRENTON: A sophomore center fielder, Langford went 5-for-8 with five runs in two games. Her run at the plate was highlighted by a home run against Bell on Tuesday, which helped the Tigers reclaim first place in District 6-1A.
KATIE GRACE OLINGER, OAK HALL: Olinger, an eighth grader, tossed a no-hitter last Wednesday against St. Johns Country Day School and then struck out 12 on Friday to earn her second win of the week against St. Joseph. At the plate, she went a combined 5-for-9 in three games with seven RBI and three runs.
KYLLE CAHILL-PATRAY, OAK HALL: The sophomore catcher hit 6-for-9 last week with four runs scored and seven RBI. Cahill-Patray also notched two extra-base hits, including a double and a triple.
MARIAH CARTER, HAWTHORNE: The senior pitcher notched 28 strikeouts last week for the Hornets in wins against Bronson and Oak Hall.
KORTNEY MASTERS, HAWTHORNE: A sixth-grade catcher, Masters went 5-for-8 at the plate in two games last week, including an inside-the-park home run against Oak Hall.
Track and field
BRIONA HOPKINS, GAINESVILLE: The senior finished second in the 100-meter dash at the Spruce Creek Invitational with a time of 12.87. Hopkins helped the Hurricanes secure a fifth-place finish overall with a winning performance in the 4x100 relay and fourth-place effort in the 4x400.
CHRIS THOMPSON, GAINESVILLE: The senior finished third overall in the 100-meter finals with a time of 10.99. He also ran legs in the Hurricanes' 4x100 and 4x400 relay wins.
Athletes of the week are determined by nominations from area coaches. Coaches are asked to call in every Sunday between 4-7 p.m.