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Bears outlast Eagles to win River Ridge title

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Even in Pasco County, Central proved it still is the best team in Hernando County.

Central earned a 43-32 victory against Springstead, its second victory against its county and district rival this season, in Saturday's River Ridge Holiday Tournament final at the Jim Valentine Athletic Complex.

It is the third consecutive season Central has taken the River Ridge tournament title back to Brooksville. But the Bears had to overcome a slow start before pulling away late.

"We tried a couple of different things early on, and it didn't quite work," Central coach Lori Lessley said. "We tried to run a different offense and a different defense just because we played them before and we knew they would be ready."

But the Eagles were just as ready for the new stuff, exploiting the man-press to run out to a 10-3 first-quarter lead then holding onto a slim 19-18 lead at the half.

"Springstead, I thought, did a fantastic job," Lessley said. "We couldn't do anything we wanted to do, so we had to go back to the old stuff."

That meant a return to the zone press defense for the Bears, which fed their transition game.

Tamara Tatham tied the score 21-21 at the line, shooting two with four minutes left. Then tournament MVP Samantha Downing put Central up for good on a basket with 2:48 left.

Sharesa Scott almost single-handedly put Springstead away, scoring 12 points during a four-minute span at the end of the third and start of the fourth. Central took as much as a 19-point lead and outscored Springstead 25-13 in the second half.

Downing led Central (8-2) with 14, and Scott had 12 and Tatham nine. Springstead (4-5) was led by Mallory Freeman's 14.

River Ridge (2-9) won the consolation game 40-30 against Mitchell (3-7). Leading scorer Ryan Hille returned from the flu and led the Royal Knights with 16, scoring eight in the second and the fourth. Karmen James added nine.

The Royal Knights overcame a six-point halftime deficit and outscored the Mustangs in the fourth 19-6.

"We were short some people (Friday), so we were a little worn out (Saturday)," coach Al Sorrentino said. "So we didn't press until the third quarter, and they didn't handle it very well. Our pressure really went well, and we got some easy baskets off that.

"We kind of got a little energy off doing that, and we built on that and just took over the game."

The Mustangs were led by Ashley Zappacosta's seven points.

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