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Gators' playoff struggles continue

Countryside center Jeff Bronson keeps Land O'Lakes winless in the post-season.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Baseball officially began for Land O'Lakes at 8:59 p.m. on Thursday. That's when starting pitcher and shortstop Jeff Baisley's desperation half-court heave fell short as catcher Brian Baisley and pitcher David Starkey looked on helplessly. The Gators' basketball season was laid to rest by Countryside, 54-51, in the Class 5A, Region 3 playoffs at Land O'Lakes.

The Gators finished with a school-record 28 wins (against three losses), but advance no farther than they did last year ... or the year before ... or the year before.

"It's a letdown," forward Brian Baisley said.

Though it wasn't as bad as last year's 70-50 loss to Plant, the Gators' inability to contain Countryside's 6-foot-7 center Jeff Bronson (19 points), along with an uncharacteristically inconsistent effort on offense, left the same bitter taste.

"I thought they outhustled us, outplayed us and outcoached us," Gators coach Dave Puhalski said. "It was my fault. I'll take the rap for this."

Land O'Lakes had an uphill fight thanks to a terrible start punctuated by two buzzer-beating jump shots to close out the first and second quarters by the Cougars.

Even so, the Gators only trailed 26-22 at halftime. Then Bronson took over.

His four blocked shots and inside presence had already altered the Gators' offense from patient to launching three-pointers, and on offense, Bronson was too much for the Land O'Lakes post players. His rebound, basket and free throw capped a 7-0 run to start the second half. A dunk and a layup later, Bronson had extended the Cougars' lead to 37-24.

When foul trouble sent him to the bench, the Gators rallied to close the third quarter and start the fourth. Land O'Lakes reeled off a 19-8 run as Brian Baisley scored inside to put the Gators ahead 48-47 with 3:49 left.

But Countryside held the Gators without a point for the next 3:43, taking a 51-48 lead on Anthony Cavalone's free throws with 31.3 seconds left.

Land O'Lakes got two great chances the next trip down the floor -- wide-open three-pointers by its best shooters -- but both attempts hit the front of the rim.

Two more free throws by Countryside made it 53-48, and even though Brian Baisley hit a three-pointer with six seconds left, the Gators fell in defeat.

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