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By KEITH NIEBUHR
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001
LECANTO -- The stakes were high. The pressure was great. The win was grueling.
Two nights after beating Citrus 62-60 in the the area's most pressure-packed game of the season, Lecanto has the task of turning right around and playing Dunnellon -- the area's most talented team.
"I don't think it will be hard at all (to be up for Dunnellon)," Panthers coach Chris Nichols said. "That's a big rivalry just like (Wednesday's night's game against Citrus)."
Beating top-seeded Dunnellon (19-8) tonight in a semifinal of the Class 4A, District 7 Tournament won't be easy for Lecanto (15-9), which has won four straight games and claimed the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference title last week.
Dunnellon lost once in district play and swept the regular-season series with the Panthers. The teams met first in December, when Dunnellon won 93-86 in overtime to stop a six-game Lecanto winning streak. One month later, the Tigers won 71-60 in Dunnellon.
To beat Dunnellon, the Panthers will have to contain guard Stanley Jackson, who averages 28.7 points per game and has more than 2,500 career points.
Nichols, however, is quick to point out that Dunnellon "has other players." One of them is guard Greg Bullock. Another is guard Daniel Ramp.
"We can not let (Jackson) go crazy and we have to try to hold the other guys down," Nichols said.
Dunnellon, which had an opening-round bye, enters the tournament on a two-game winning streak. Last week, the Tigers beat Belleview, the 10th-ranked team in Class 5A.
Had it not been for a fourth-quarter rally Wednesday night, Lecanto's season would have ended against Citrus.
After going back and fourth with the Hurricanes for three quarters, the Panthers fell behind 50-43 with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter on a Greg Covino lay-up. Just as it seemed as if Lecanto's season was slipping away, the Panthers' full-court pressure took the 'Canes apart. In the span of a minute, Citrus turned over the ball three times and never fully recovered.
With 2:43 left, Lecanto forward Dalton Meyers hit a short jumper to pull the Panthers to within 53-52. Less than two minutes later, center Chris Jackson gave them their first lead of the quarter. Meyers sealed Citrus' fate by hitting two foul shots with 4.2 seconds left.
Meyers finished with 14 points. Jackson had 19. The duo combined for 21 of Lecanto's 29 second-half points.
"The constant pressure wore (Citrus) down," Nichols said.
f,WEDNESDAY: Lake Weir d. Crystal River 62-37; Lecanto d. Citrus 62-60.
TODAY: Lecanto (15-9) vs. Dunnellon (19-8), 6 p.m.; Lake Weir (12-16) vs. North Marion (19-9), 7:30.
SATURDAY: Final, 7:30 p.m.