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Lecanto stands in Central's way again

By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003

BROOKSVILLE -- Call it coincidence, if you like. Say Lecanto played better ballgames.

But whatever you do, don't suggest to Central coach Lori Lessley that her team has a mental block when it comes to playing Lecanto in the district tournament.

"I think, mentally, they have confidence," Lessley said. "We've had a pretty successful season, and we go into every game thinking we have a chance. We don't feel like we have to overcome a mental aspect. We just need to be ready to play."

Lecanto ousted Central from the district tournament two years ago at Hernando and last season at Lecanto. The second-seeded Bears (18-5) hope to return the favor when they host the third-seeded Panthers on Thursday in a Class 4A, District 7 semifinal.

A victory would put Central into the title game, likely against top-seeded Leesburg, and give the Bears their first region playoff berth.

"It would be a nice step for the seniors," Lessley said. "It's a step every program wants to make, and Lecanto has and Leesburg has and we would like to make that step, too. But we've got to take care of business as a team."

Central has been the better team this season. The Bears beat the Panthers 66-28 on Dec. 6 at Central and 47-40 on Jan. 17 at Lecanto. On both occasions, the Bears were able to create turnovers with their press.

But, as history proves, winning in the regular season and winning in the postseason are two very different things.

Central swept Lecanto two years ago but lost 41-39 in the opening round of the district tournament. The teams split last season's series before the Panthers beat the Bears 50-48 in the semifinal round.

Both games were decided in the final minute.

Lesley Caron made two free throws with 56 seconds remaining to tie the game, and Erin Bailey contributed two more with 11 seconds left to clinch the 2001 win. Kate Wheeler's two foul shots with 4.3 seconds remaining made the difference last season.

"We feel we can play with Lecanto," Lessley said. "When it comes to districts, I don't know. I believe they just outplayed us."

Central should get a boost from the return of senior guard/forward Thalia Tatham. Tatham, the team's top rebounder and interior defender, missed the past few games after having oral surgery.

Leesburg will play the winner of Tuesday's play-in game between Springstead and Clermont East Ridge in the other semifinal.

-- Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastor@sptimes.com .

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