By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2002
BROOKSVILLE -- Leesburg lost to Belleview on a buzzer-beater in last season's district championship game.
So when the Yellow Jackets reached the finals this season, coach Chad Keller told his players, "It's our time."
Leesburg didn't shoot well at times and committed too many turnovers at others. But the Yellow Jackets made up for their mistakes Saturday by outhustling Lecanto in a 79-52 victory at Central.
Leesburg (26-5) pressured Lecanto (15-10) into 25 turnovers and consistently beat the Panthers to rebounds and loose balls to claim its eighth district title and fourth in five seasons.
"We rely on defensive pressure, and we were fortunate enough (Saturday) to have two or three runs where our defense forced turnovers and we were able to convert and score points out of them," Keller said.
Three days after Central slowed the tempo while holding Leesburg to eight first-quarter points in a 64-30 semifinal loss, Lecanto tried the same tactic. This time, the Yellow Jackets were ready for it.
"They're just physical, and I don't think we handled that particularly well," Lecanto coach Chris Nichols said. "Against a team like that, you have to be strong with the basketball, and we weren't strong with the basketball."
Tony Thomas scored 14 points off the bench to lead 12 Leesburg scorers. Travis Littles (11), Jarvieous Wright (10) and Jeremy McNish (10) also scored in double figures.
Lecanto's Curtis Laytart and Dalton Meyers had 10 points apiece and Jivko Radevsi had nine. Landon Baize had one of the Panthers' few highlights when he converted a 4-point play after being fouled while making a 3-pointer in the second quarter.
Leesburg will host Ridgewood in Thursday's region quarterfinals, while Lecanto plays at Gulf.
"It's our second time in the state playoffs, but, with this group, we've never been in the playoffs before," Nichols said. "We want to make sure fundamentally we're doing things sound and attack our next opponent the best we can."