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Hernando squeaks into semis

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003

INVERNESS -- Jeff Brown calls himself a late-game player.

Now we know why.

With his team in desperate need of offense and energy, the Hernando sophomore provided both. Brown scored eight in the fourth quarter and six more in overtime to lead the fifth-seeded Leopards past fourth seed Ocala West Port 53-49 in a Class 3A, District 6 quarterfinal Wednesday.

"In the fourth quarter I'm always stepping up for my team," Brown said. "That's when I play my best."

Brown finished with a game-high 30.

Hernando (10-18) has won three straight. The Leopards lost to West Port (12-17) twice in the regular season. Hernando faces top seed Citrus (23-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a semifinal. Citrus, which had a bye Wednesday, is unbeaten against district opponents.

"It's going to be David versus Goliath," Hernando coach Jeff Laing said. "Citrus has beaten us twice. And for us to look back at our season and call it a success, we need to play well."

Wednesday, the lead switched hands six times in the fourth quarter. Hernando led by two with 1:15 left but turned it over. After a missed Leopards free throw, West Port tied it on Keller Dukes' layup with 17 seconds left. Hernando missed two shots in the final 4.5 seconds that would have won it.

But in overtime the Leopards, and Brown, dominated.

"This is big," Laing said. "Late in the year we've been able to bounce back in close games."

Brown's finish was impressive, but the guard's start was not. He had several first-half turnovers that Hernando weathered in large part with a strong defensive effort and the rebounding of Mozell Elder.

Early it looked like West Port might win with ease. The Wolf Pack went ahead 16-9 on a foul shot by sophomore center Bravis Cave with 2:13 left in the first quarter. But seconds later Cave, who had nine first-quarter points, committed his second foul and went to the bench. Without Cave, West Port's inside attack fizzled and Hernando fought back.

The teams traded the lead and momentum the rest of the game. Hernando went ahead 27-26 at the half on Brown's slam. "The turnovers were getting to me," Brown said. "In the first half I was frustrated, but that dunk was a big boost."

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