By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
NEW PORT RICHEY -- In its short existence, the Palm Harbor University boys basketball team has already had its share of firsts: basket, dunk, winning streak, overtime game, and so on.
But four years after the school opened its doors, the Hurricanes picked up the one first coach Michael Walters has really yearned for: a district win.
Tuesday night, Palm Harbor dodged two Ridgewood rallies and pulled out a 53-49 double overtime win in the Class 5A, District 9 opener for both teams.
Jon Avery's two free throws with 1.8 seconds left sealed the Hurricanes' victory.
"This is big ... our first district win in our history," said a relieved Walters. "We had our starting point guard out and our kids knew they had to come together and give a little extra and they did."
Thomas Taylor, the Hurricanes' 6-foot-3 point guard and team leader, was at home ill.
But guards Everson Holmes and Dexter McCloud combined for 15 points in his stead, and Chad Anderson added a team-high 12 points.
The Hurricanes (2-0) trailed 32-31 starting the final period, but Avery converted a three-point play to start a 9-0 run, capped by Jason Corbett's basket inside to make it 40-32 with five minutes remaining.
It was PHU's last basket of regulation. Turning the ball over three times and twice missing the front end of bonus free-throw situations, the Hurricanes let Ridgewood chip away and eventually tie the game on Donnie Lotz's reverse layup with 16 seconds left.
"The last three minutes we missed some free throws or that game doesn't even go into overtime," Walters said.
Another missed free throw, this time by Ridgewood however, would force another overtime. With PHU leading 45-44 in the first extra period, Ridgewood guard Edwin Sierra took the ball strong to the hoop and was fouled with 4.8 seconds left. After making the first free throw, however, he missed the second.
PHU finally buried the Rams in the second overtime. Corbett drew a foul from Lotz with 45 seconds remaining to end the Ram center's night after a game-high 28 points. Corbett's free throw put the Hurricanes ahead for good 50-49.
With his team's go-to guy out of the game, Ridgewood's Joe Anders tried to make a move baseline but stepped out of bounds with 16 seconds remaining. Chris Halkitis missed a three-point shot seconds later as PHU hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final 13 seconds.