Panthers knocked out

Despite second-half adjustments, Lecanto struggles in region final.

Published February 25, 2007

PORT ORANGE - At first, the pain was simply physical.

The Lecanto players had bumps and bruises from the relentless Port Orange Atlantic squad that crashed its way to the basket and harassed the Panthers on defense.

But as the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday, a deeper pain punctured the hearts of the Panthers.

Eyes reddened and watered as Lecanto realized that its record-setting season was coming to an end, as Atlantic defeated Lecanto 64-31 in the 4A region final.

This is the furthest any Citrus County team has gone in the postseason since 1961, when Citrus played for the title.

On Saturday, the basketball game felt more like a boxing match for the Panthers.

No matter what Lecanto 25-5 came up with, Atlantic (28-3) simply delivered a much stronger combination.

"It was like in a fight," Lecanto coach Chris Nichols said. "You're throwing punches, but you can't connect because you're taking too many."

The Panthers struggled to match up against the quicker, stronger Atlantic team that still had a sour taste in its mouth from losing at home in the region semifinals last season.

Atlantic opened the game on a 6-0 run and continued to add to its lead. Lecanto struggled to maintain possession and committed 13 turnovers in the first half.

"They put tremendous pressure on Victor (Cortes) and Nick (Cortes) and made it very difficult for us to do anything on offense," Nichols said. "So what we tried to do was dribble penetrate, try to screen some across, get something going inside."

The second-half adjustments made sense, especially with Lecanto down by just 10 points. The Panthers cut down on turnovers, but it still was hard for Lecanto to compete with Atlantic's deep team led by James Torrance's 21 points. Eleven scored for the Sharks on Saturday.

"We just try to wear people out," Atlantic coach Brian Morris said.

It worked.

The boxing analogy might be appropriate, especially given the lump left on Victor Cortes' left eye. But the senior guard said the beating didn't diminish the Panthers' 25-win season, a school record, or the fact that they made it as far as they did.

"We played with heart, no fear," he said. "Heart is what brought us here."

Senior forward Jared Brantley added, "It wasn't a knockout. I don't care what the score says. We didn't give up."

Kellie Dixon can be reached at kdixon@sptimes.com or (352) 544-9480.