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Cougars swat Land O'Lakes

By JOHN C. COTEY and RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Hopping around the court and looking for someone to hug, Countryside forward Will Wightman couldn't contain himself and shouted out to no one in particular: "We ain't done yet."

He was right. Countryside is not done.

Land O'Lakes, Class 5A's third-ranked team, is.

The Cougars allowed the Gators one spurt of offense all game, and once it survived that it was able to hold on for a 54-51 win Thursday in the regional quarterfinals.

The victory was the Cougars first playoff win since 1989. "We don't have much tradition here," coach Randy Leath said. "That is one of my main objectives here."

The Cougars, who meet Plant in the regional semifinals next, may be on their way. They baffled the Gators' offense with a quick trapping defense unlike anything Land O'Lakes had seen all year in Pasco County, and though the Gators (28-3) played in three tournaments and saw similar speed, they seemed ill-prepared for it this time, shooting just 40 percent.

Most of their misses were beyond the three-point arc, thanks to four blocked shots in the early going by 6-foot-7 center Jeff Bronson that convinced the Gators to stay out of the paint. His ability to swat away the Gators took away their most dangerous weapon -- lay-ups off the backdoor cut.

"They didn't seem to want to go inside after that," Leath said. "That made a big difference. They were settling for threes, and settling for threes without their legs was to our advantage."

The Gators lost their legs rallying from a 37-24 third quarter deficit (thanks to Bronson's 11 points in the quarter). Though they took the lead at 48-47 with 3:40 remaining, they had little left for the stretch.

Ryan Van Blarcom and Jeff Baisley, both missed short jumpers, then open three-pointers with 17 and 14 seconds left respectively. Meanwhile, Anthony Cavalone made 3-of-4 free throws and Julian Mascoll made both of his as the Cougars held on.

Bronson finished with 19 points. As he sat up on a stage by himself afterward, he was asked if it was the best game of his life. He glanced at the scoreboard, smiled and said "as of now, yes." -- JOHN C. COTEY

Bogie edges PHU

GULFPORT -- Boca Ciega dodged a bullet Thursday night, but that's nothing new. The Pirates know a thing or two about surviving.

In a season full of blue-collar, grind-it-out games, Boca Ciega added another one to the list with a 59-54 overtime win over Palm Harbor University.

The Pirates (18-10) play Port Charlotte, a 58-49 winner over King, on Tuesday in the semifinals. PHU ended its season at 16-15.

"That's what we've been doing all year," Boca Ciega coach Randy Shuman said. "We haven't blown anybody out, and we've rarely been blown out. We just hang around 10 points up or down."

The Pirates had to take the best PHU could offer. The Hurricanes hit 20 of 24 free throws and executed perfectly in the final seconds to send the game into overtime.

It looked as if Boca Ciega sealed the game with two seconds left when Devontae Royal nailed a 10-foot leaner to give it a 48-46 lead. After a timeout, Chad Anderson inbounded the ball to Thomas Taylor just over the half-court line. Taylor called timeout with a second remaining.

Taylor then inbounded the ball to Anderson underneath the basket, and his layup went in just as the buzzer sounded.

The Hurricanes scored first in overtime, but Boca Ciega scored the next six to take a four-point lead. PHU's Jason Corbett hit a fall-away shot with just less than a minute left, and the Hurricanes got the ball back on a turnover.

But Corbett's three-pointer with four seconds left bounced off of the rim. Royal hit two free throws with two seconds left to ice the game.

"Palm Harbor did everything right," Shuman said. "Give them credit, and give our guys credit. I can't be too mad at them. They all played as hard as they could."

Royal led the way for Boca Ciega with 30 points. Jovan Hardwick added eight and had two crucial steals in overtime. Anderson had 17 points and was 13-for-14 at the free-throw line for PHU. Taylor added 10 points.

Neither team established a big lead. Boca Ciega led by seven to start the second quarter, but PHU scored seven in a row to tie the game.

With five minutes left in the fourth quarter and winning 45-43, Boca Ciega held the ball when PHU didn't pressure on defense. The Pirates ran nearly three minutes off of the clock before PHU fouled. -- RODNEY PAGE

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