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Leopards survive rally by Central

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando held an 11-point lead with three minutes to play, but when Central whittled that to two with 1:51 left, Leopards coach Charlie Williams started having flashbacks.

A year earlier in the same gym, Central stunned Hernando, hitting the winner with four seconds left to turn a one-point lead into a heartbreaking one-point loss.

This time, Jerrell Graham and Carlton Norton helped put that in the past.

Norton's putback of Graham's miss started an 8-0 Hernando run to end the game as the Leopards beat their crosstown rival 59-48 Tuesday at Imhoff Gymnasium.

"When they started making their run at us, it brought back memories," Williams said. "This is one of those close rivalries where you get one-point games and buzzer-beaters."

Hernando (2-1) had been in control since ending the first quarter on a 9-2 tear, with junior Jeremy Balogh leading the way. His free throws with 3:07 remaining gave him 22 points and gave the Leopards a 48-37 advantage, with Central's leading scorer Josh Scott and his 16 points on the bench after he picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in within two seconds.

Central (2-1) still rallied behind its seniors, on four points by Sean Tuzza, two by Donnie Pelham and a three-point play by Mike O'Connell. O'Connell fouled out with 1:30 remaining, however, and the Bears had a costly turnover when point guard David Egan fired a pass into the Central bench.

"I'm not crying, and we'll be better," Bears coach John Sedlack said. "We're just missing something. We didn't practice well yesterday and we didn't play well tonight. You can't go into a rivalry game like this and play soft, and we all played soft."

Graham scored four points in the final minute to put the game away, but Williams reserved his biggest praise for Norton, a senior getting his first significant playing time this season.

"Carlton isn't big, but he's a leader," Williams said. "He leads by playing hard, and he plays around the basket. You get him 10 feet from the basket and you don't have much, but in close, he can play. That was an excellent play he made."

Balogh was the game's high scorer, and the Leopards put three others in double figures in the final minute: Graham with 11 points, and Norton and Joel Steele with 10 each.

Hernando faces River Ridge on Thursday. Central travels to face unbeaten Lecanto on Saturday. The Bears and Leopards meet again at Central on Jan. 12.

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