CLASS 4A, DISTRICT 7: entral outscores Lecanto 26-8 in the pivotal quarter and cruises 43-31.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2003
BROOKSVILLE -- Central senior Samantha Downing waited five days for its semifinal against Lecanto.
"It was like waiting to open your Christmas present," she said.
When the game finally arrived, the Bears unwrapped their first playoff berth in history.
Lecanto has been the hurdle in Central's path, eliminating the Bears the past two seasons. With a 43-31 victory on Thursday, the Bears tossed aside the Pathers like so much used wrapping paper.
Central led by as much as 26 late in the third quarter before Lecanto -- playing primarily against the Bears backups -- scored the final 14.
In a second quarter Downing called the best the Bears have played all season, Central outscored Lecanto 26-8 to take a 33-15 halftime lead. The Bears were 10-of-17 from the field in the quarter and forced 22 turnovers in the half.
Central's defensive pressure sparked the run, and Downing (14) and senior guard Sharesa Scott (eight) combined for 22 of Central's 26 points.
But the Bears' work isn't done.
Central (20-5) plays top-seeded Leesburg for the district championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Yellowjackets struggled with fifth-seeded Clermont East Ridge for much of its semifinal before winning 60-53.
"It feels nice, but it doesn't feel like it's finished," Central coach Lori Lessley said. "Our goals are higher than this."
Downing made two 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 18 points for Central. Scott added 12.
Lecanto which had 11 players ill and three starters (Tara Haddock, Mary Ann Emberly and Caroline Rodriguez) playing off the bench, ended its season at 12-13.
But coach Ron Allan wasn't making excuses.
"They were a better team," Allan said. "They did an outstanding job this year."
Leesburg beat Central twice this season. To turn the tables, Lessley said the Bears will have to handle the Yellowjackets' man-to-man pressure, rebound and control Danielle Harris, who scored 22 against East Ridge.
"We can't play scared," Scott said. "Our girls have to step it up. Every time we play them, I feel like the team looks up at them. I think we've got to start looking down on them. I think we can play with any team in this district."