MANATEE -- Michael Sanchez was unwanted out of high school.
No coach was willing to take a chance on someone who barely stood 5-foot-8.
New State College of Florida basketball coach Brock Erickson first saw Sanchez play last summer in an AAU game and knew he was the perfect person to run his frenetic offense.
The freshman out Kissimmee Osceola showed his appreciation when he sparked SCF to an important 71-55 victory over Polk State College on Saturday at Hal Chasey Gymnasium.
The stats told it all, but the most impressive thing about Sanchez is his energy.
Playing nearly 40 minutes, he poured in 23 points, had seven steals and dished out four assists.
"He is unbelievable. He comes to play every day, and his quickness is perfect for our style," Erickson said. "He is so good with the basketball in his hands, is unselfish and can score. He never gets tired. He never wants to come out. He is a relentless worker and a fantastic kid."
The victory puts SCF in a first place tie with Polk in the Suncoast Conference standings. Both are 4-2. The Manatees, who have handed Polk its two losses, are 21-6 overall; the Eagles are 19-8.
SCF has three conference games remaining, one each with St. Petersburg, Polk and Hillsborough in the regular season finale on Feb. 20. The Manatees opened conference play 3-0, but dropped two straight (to St. Petersburg and Hillsborough).
"We should've won those two games and you've just got to step up. We didn't play hard. They got every 50-50 ball," said Sanchez, who is third on the team in scoring (14.3 ppg). "Now we are stepping up. We beat Polk in overtime in their place. We learned a lot from that game, but the big thing was that we played harder and outhustled them this time. I never get tired, that's part of conditioning. We run up and down."
SCF led 56-34 with 12:43 left when Polk went on a run and cut its deficit to 58-46 with 8:46 remaining.
Then Sanchez took over.
The point guard broke free downcourt for a layup, drained a shot from beyond the arc and stole the ball to set up a basket by Isaiah Williams to push the lead to 65-46. Polk trailed 65-51 when Sanchez iced the game with a steal and fed Savad Garner for a layup for a 67-51 advantage with 2:08 left.
Williams finished with 15 points, led the Manatees with eight rebounds, dished out four assists and had two blocks. Garner had 10 points, three assists and two steals.
The Manatees came into the game leading the nation in scoring (100.2 ppg) and were second in assists (24.3 apg), but relied on their defense and rebounding to secure the win. Using a variety of defenses that included a full-court press, SCF won the battle of the boards 43-32 and had 15 offensive rebounds to seven for the taller Eagles.
The Manatees had 16 assists and 12 steals and shot 29-of-66 from the field and 9-of-19 from 3-point land. Polk was 24-of-59 overall and 3-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The Manatees played without Larry Keys, who could be lost for the season with a broken tibia. The freshman leads SCF in 3-point field-goal percentage (57.4) and is averaging 7.7 points per game.
Sanchez connected on 10 of 15 field-goal attempts and was 3-for-4 on treys. Williams was 5-of-11 and knocked down two of five from bonus land. SCF held Polk leading scorer Bernard Samuels (14.5 ppg) to seven points
"We like to score as much as we can, but the focus tonight was defense," Erickson said. "Three of our top five guards are either hurt or out, and it's hard for us to press without a lot of guards because we get tired. This was an important game, especially at home. We are 11-1 at home, and we got to make sure we take care of business at home. The key tonight was energy and all 10 guys playing hard for 40 minutes. Defensively, to hold a team that is so talented to under 60 points is a testament to our effort."