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Streaky Eagles come up short

Brandon rallies from 18 points down, but falls 74-71 to Clermont East Ridge.

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published March 6, 2005


CLERMONT - When the buzzer sounded for the last time, Brandon guard Jamal Thompson buried his face in a towel. A few feet away, teammate Kyle Williams unsuccessfully tried to fight back tears. On the other end of the court, Clermont East Ridge players were mobbed by cheering students. The Knights are headed to the final four after a 74-71 win Saturday night that was an emotional roller-coaster for both squads.

"East Ridge did a heck of a job," Brandon coach Mark Hermann said.

East Ridge (22-6) led the entire way, but the outcome wasn't decided until the end because the Eagles (27-3) simply refused to go away. After trailing by as many as 18 points, Brandon closed to within 64-63 after two Korri Ennis free throws with 4:15 left. Then the Knights responded by hitting eight free throws down the stretch to ice it.

East Ridge forward Cory Godzinski was the star. The 6-foot-7 junior, a presence inside the paint and out, scored a game-high 31 with five 3-pointers. He also hit 6 of 7 free throws.

"We didn't do a good enough job on (Godzinski)," Hermann said. "He hit some huge shots."

Brandon entered with a 19-game win streak after back-to-back home playoff wins over Sickles and Lakeland Lake Region. But the Eagles had too many cold spells to pull this one out. At various times, Brandon's offense was nonexistent. And on the other end East Ridge had more shots from point-blank range than the Eagles would have preferred.

Brandon's first drought began at the opening tip and lasted until late in the second quarter. By then, East Ridge led 27-9 thanks largely to Godzinski, who at one point drained three 3-pointers in a two-and-a-half-minute span. The lead again hit 18 after two Godzinski free throws made it 36-18 with 3:01 left in the half.

"They couldn't miss," Brandon guard Aubrey Brown said.

Then Brandon got hot.

Behind a 13-2 run sparked by two Thompson 3-pointers, the Eagles rallied to trail just 38-33 at the half and appeared to have shaken East Ridge's confidence. Not quite. In the third quarter, the momentum quickly turned in East Ridge's favor and a 10-0 burst helped the Knights open a 14-point lead. Again Brandon rallied, this time behind forward Zaronn Cann, who hit three shots in the paint late in the third to keep the Eagles in it.

"We had such a big lead that we started getting nervous," Godzinski said. "But then we kind of settled down and played the end of the game like we played at the beginning."

Thompson led Brandon with 18 points.