Panthers' pain pays for gain

Published February 11, 2006

BELLEVIEW - Lecanto demonstrated the art of taking fouls Friday night and it helped the Panthers earn a trip to the region playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

Three Citrus players fouled out in the final five minutes, and Lecanto erased a six-point fourth-quarter deficit to win its Class 4A, District 6 semifinal, 65-58.

Without Walt Howard to carry them, the Hurricanes - who led most of the game - faltered in the final minutes. Howard fouled out with 4:26 left.

Mark Xenophon and Dwann Ross also fouled out in the fourth quarter.

Panthers guard Mychal Nichols sparked his team late, scoring eight of his 21 points in the final four minutes. Eddie Buckley added 20 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.

But Nichols and Buckley did more than score - they drew important fouls.

Nichols fell after running into a Howard pick late in the third quarter, happily watching as Citrus' best player picked up his fourth foul.

Then, moments after Howard first appeared in the game in the fourth quarter, Buckley drove the lane against Howard, who drew a blocking call.

Nichols laughed about his abilities.

"I'm a good actor," Nichols said with a smile. "Everyone calls me the actor. If I get pushed, I'm going to flail my arms. It works."

Lecanto drew 25 fouls, 14 more than Citrus. Hurricanes coach Tom Densmore noticed the difference, but said it had nothing to do with the referees.

"They teach them how to fake the charge and they do it real well," Densmore said. "That's not a negative thing. That's a coaching thing."

Panthers coach Chris Nichols said he didn't ask his players to draw fouls. But he said they knew how to play late in a close game.

Their work earned the Panthers a trip to the district final. They play North Marion for the title tonight and coach Nichols is confident.

"We're playing with no fear late in ballgames," he said. "We're not scared."

4A-8: Springstead surprises

All season, Springstead coach Craig Swartout called the regular season the "preseason."

"The real season starts in the district playoffs," he would say.

His constant refrain seemed a bit manufactured at the time, maybe even a little naive, but his sentiments were clear: No matter what we do during the regular season, that's thrown out when the district tournament starts. An undefeated regular season could end with a first-round loss or a winless season could continue with a regional berth.

Friday, the Eagles (17-8) beat Gulf 64-53 in a win indicative of Swartout's mantra. Springstead lost to Gulf in both previous meetings. But, so what?

"We've come a long way," said Swartout, who said he was pleased, but not surprised by the relative ease with which the Eagles won. "I don't want to sound braggadocio, but the team has matured so much since then."

Steve Feldman said that when the Eagles jumped out to an early 11-0 lead, they forced Gulf (17-10) out of a zone defense into a man-to-man and that's when Springstead used its size advantage over Munchkin-like Gulf. Ethan Selph, the Eagles 6-7 center, followed up a strong performance in the first round with 11 points and active work on the boards. AB Rodriguez continued his standout season with 22 points. Tim Hennigan came up big for the Eagles, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the second quarter, including back-to-back baseline 3-pointers to extend the Eagles lead from eight to 12. The lead dipped below double-digits for just a brief moment after that.

Pasco brushed off South Sumter, behind Darrell Davis' 21 points, with a 59-36 win the evening's first game. The Pirates play at Springstead tonight at 7. Pasco lost one district game all season when they dropped a close game to Hernando. Noticeably absent from that game was Davis, on a recruiting trip. Pasco's appearance in the title game was expected. As for Springstead, well, not even some of its players were always convinced they would advance this far.

"To be honest with you, I wasn't so sure," said Hennigan. "My eyes weren't really set on it, because the last couple of years we haven't really had that great of a team."

But as Swartout said last night, "It's a new day."