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By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- Before the season, Hernando coach Charlie Williams set a realistic goal for his team: a respectable 15 wins.
With a 69-56 victory over Pasco on Saturday night, the Leopards picked up their 15th win.
This one also gave Hernando the Class 4A, District 8 title, its first district title in 24 years.
"I've had better teams with more talent, but none have gotten to this point," said Williams, who will make his first playoff appearance in six years coaching Hernando. "These guys stepped up and played more together."
When junior Jerrell Graham had scored 34 points the night before, Williams conceded, "as Jerrell Graham goes, Hernando goes," but Graham had a solid supporting cast Saturday.
Though he scored a game-high 23 points, only eight came in the second half. Forward Jeremy Balogh hit four three-pointers and scored 14 points, and center Paul Bates scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
"Everybody stepped up today," said Williams, who had 10 players score. "I told them somebody's going to have to step up. Jeremy hit some good baskets, and Paul Bates scrapped, got some loose balls and rebounds. He really played hard."
The Pirates (15-14) came out confident, waving a pair of red scissors above a pregame huddle at midcourt, showing Hernando they planned to cut down the nets on the Leopards' court. Pasco led 6-0 and hit four three-pointers in its first five shots, but Hernando (15-15) rallied for its first lead early in the second quarter.
The Pirates trailed by four entering the fourth, but Hernando exploded for 27 points in the final quarter. Pasco was led by Leonard Bates, who scored 10 points in the first quarter but finished with 16, with just two points after the opening basket of the second half. Keymo Pearson added 13, and Kenny Roberts scored 12.
"I'm not disappointed one bit about the effort we gave," Pasco coach Willie "Poncho" Broner III said. "I thought we slowed Graham down, but the other guys stepped up. And that's what you have to have."
Hernando will play host to a regional quarterfinal Thursday against Lake Weir, which lost 67-48 to Dunnellon in the District 7 final. Pasco opens the post-season Thursday at Dunnellon.