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INVERNESS — Liz Lynch sat slumped on the Citrus basketball court with tears in her eyes, very near the spot where, a few minutes earlier, she had swiped a West Port inbounds pass and quickly converted it into a basket, cutting the Wolf Pack lead to a single point with 20 seconds left in the game.
It was the last time in her prep career she would get a shot at a district title. This time was closer than any of the others, but just like the three previous years in which Lynch served as starting point guard for the Hurricanes, this one ended in disappointment.
A furious fourth-quarter rally that saw the Wolf Pack overcome an 11-point deficit carry them to the school’s ninth straight district championship, 61-58, at Citrus on Friday in the District 6A-6 title game.
West Port, now 19-8, hosts the loser of the 6A-5 district final between Gainesville and Leesburg, while Citrus (20-7) must travel to play the winner of that district. The regional quarterfinals is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday.
“This one was the best,” said West Port coach Corey Rollerson, comparing this to his previous district titles, “because they’ve never been so close
Ninety seconds into the fourth quarter, it didn’t look like this one would be all that close, either, only this time it seemed the West Port district stranglehold would be ended. A basket by Shenelle Toxen and two free throws by Micah Jenkins had allowed Citrus to increase its 50-43 lead after three quarters to 54-43.
But it was about then that West Port went back to doing what it does best, and the difference was immediate.
“We switched defenses at halftime because we thought they were getting too many inside shots,” Rollerson explained. “We switched to a zone to try and take them outside, but that didn’t work either.
“So we changed up again. We decided to go out and do what we do best. We went to our pressure man-to-man and I thought, one more push and we’d have it.”
A combination of missed shots and turnovers by Citrus fueled a 10-0 Wolf Pack run over the next three minutes, a basket by Navondra Dubois trimming the Hurricane lead to 54-53 with 3:41 left. Toxen answered for Citrus with a score inside, but two buckets by Kori Hanks sandwiched around another Dubois score put West Port up 59-56 with just 43 seconds left.
Citrus still had several chances to pull out the victory in those final seconds, including after Lynch’s steal and basket with 20 seconds to go. Destiny Lawson hit two free throws to make it a three-point edge for West Port, but the front ends of two other one-and-one chances were missed. After each, however, the Hurricanes turned the ball over.
“That was a tough game,” Citrus coach Brian Lattin said. “At the end of the day, we just didn’t get it done in the fourth quarter.
“Even when they cut (the lead) to three and to one, I still felt like we were going to win it.”
Perhaps that’s because until the fourth quarter, Citrus had been in control. Indeed, West Port’s only lead before its late rally was 3-0 on Lawson’s game-opening three-pointer. The Hurricanes led 16-8 with two minutes left in the first quarter before settling for an 18-14 lead at quarter’s end, then took a 32-26 advantage into the half.
Five straight points by Lindsay Connors midway through the third quarter gave Citrus its biggest lead, 44-32.
Toxen topped Citrus with 17 points, with Jenkins adding 15 and Treleasha Simmons getting eight. Lawson and Hanks each scored 17 for West Port, with Dubois getting 15 and Aaliyah High 10.