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Tough loss may do Citrus good

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002

INVERNESS -- As painful as Citrus' 57-53 loss to St. Augustine Menendez in the Class 3A, Region 2 quarterfinals was, it could prove to be valuable in the future.

You can't put a price tag on experience.

"This can definitely make us stronger," Hurricanes junior guard Mitch Holderness said.

That's the hope.

The 2001-2002 season ended sooner than Citrus anticipated, but was a success, nonetheless. After going 13-13 the previous year and bowing out in a district quarterfinal, the 'Canes finished 23-6 -- a win shy of the school record -- and claimed conference and district titles.

Even when it lost, Citrus usually battled.

In a 92-90 regular-season overtime setback at Dunnellon, the Hurricanes rallied from a huge first-half hole. Two weeks ago, they fought back from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit before falling to Lecanto 48-45.

Against Menendez, Citrus again fell behind early. The 'Canes trailed 20-9 after one quarter, 31-21 at the half and 44-27 midway through the third quarter before coming alive down the stretch.

After a Mike Bass layup with 7.1 seconds left, Citrus trailed 55-53. The Falcons (18-12) then hit two free throws to clinch it.

"Our coach told us (Citrus) was a good shooting team, and they proved it," Menendez guard Karl Kemp said.

The simple things kept the Hurricanes from winning.

They lost the battle of the boards, at times were hurried into bad passes and went 3 of 12 from the foul line -- 1 of 5 in the second half.

"I thought we had a couple of opportunities to win, but it just didn't fall for us," Citrus coach Jimmy Thomas said.

Where does Citrus go from here?

Probably back to the playoffs.

Next season's team will have the look and feel of the 2001-2002 squad. All but two players return, and only starting point guard Chris Vihrachoff graduates.

The top returning players will be guard Jamaal Galloway, a rising junior, and guard-forward Joel Miller, who will be a senior. Galloway averaged 18 points and Miller 14.

Another key returnee is 6-foot-7 center Brandon Green. After splitting time with 6-5 Scotty Johnson, another solid returnee, Green became the key inside threat in the district tournament and had another strong outing against Menendez.

Others back next season are key backcourt reserves Bass and Holderness.

"We're going to step up and work harder for next year," Green said.

What may have helped Menendez was its difficult regular-season schedule. The Falcons lost to No. 2 St. Augustine Nease three times, once in the district final. And they went 4-3 against opponents in higher classifications. One of those defeats came against state-power Jacksonville Ribault.

"We heard Citrus beat up on a lot of smaller schools, that they hadn't really played good competition," Kemp said. "Having a tough schedule pays off in this type of game. Citrus definitely has a good team, though.

"If (the Hurricanes) work hard on their games over the summer and get in the weight room, they have the potential to go far next year."

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