LECANTO — A stellar season for Lecanto continued on Friday night, and the Panthers added a new accolade, claiming a county championship.
The Panthers completed a clean sweep of their two county rivals, downing visiting Citrus for the second time this season, pulling away for an 83-48 victory.
“I think we were a little sloppy in the first half, had a lot of turnovers. But the shooting kind of masked that a little bit,” Lecanto head coach Frank Vilardi said. “In the second half I think we cleaned that up.
“We played really hard tonight. Our kids as usual shared the ball. Colby (Ellis) was hot in the first half, so we got him some shots. Josh (Berrios) heated up, so we found him. D.J. (Smith) was playing pretty well so we were finding him. It was good. We had a bunch of people sharing the ball and when we play like that we’re pretty tough to beat.”
The Panthers (17-2) knocked down n14 3-pointers, with nine of them coming in the first half. They were particularly deadly from beyond the arc at the end of quarters.
At the close of the first period it was Ellis, who hit one 3-pointer in the final minute and then sank another one as the buzzer sounded to build a 25-17 advantage.
An almost identical sequence unfolded as time ticked down in the second quarter. Citrus (8-10) had stayed within 10-12 points for most of the period, but Berrios drilled a pair of 3-pointers just prior to halftime, the last one as time expired to make it a 51-33 edge.
The senior guard made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, all in the first half to lead the shooting barrage.
“My teammates got me those 3s,” Berrios said. “This season we’re playing really good and we’re excited about that. We’re going to pull through, see if we can go through the playoffs and see how we do from there.”
“We said at halftime, we played the second quarter down 10, where we were in a position to make a run. And they hit the two 3s, the one right at the buzzer of the first quarter and the buzzer at halftime,” Citrus head coach Tom Densmore said.
“When any opponent that we’re going to play has 51 at halftime, that’s tough. It was mainly the 3s. They just were lighting it up. There were times that we didn’t defend it well, but they still had to make them, they still had to shoot it. … They’re having a good year, and sometimes that gives them the confidence to hit those shots like that. I have a feeling that has a lot to do with it.”
Lecanto stayed hot in the third quarter, with Nick Post hitting on two 3s and scoring 10 of his 19 points in the period. The score was 70-42 heading into the fourth, and a running clock was initiated when the lead ballooned to 35 with under five minutes to play.
Jason Grace led the Hurricanes with 15 points, and Jhon Ignilhan added 13 points and three steals. Citrus had won seven of eight, but went 0-3 this week.
“I thought that the Belleview game on Wednesday this week we kind of took a step backwards,” Densmore said. “We had the six game winning streak where we had beaten a couple of really good teams, Central and Steinbrenner. And then we lost to a really good team in Springstead at home. And then we kind of let that affect us.”
The Panthers had seven different players score and five hit at least one 3-pointer. Smith posted a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Ellis had 14 points and three steals, and Darius Gainer added 10 points, seven assists and three steals. Preston Koller didn’t score but contributed with nine rebounds, six assists and four steals.
“We pride ourselves on playing a lot kids and I tell the kids every night, ‘You never know when it’s going to be your night,’” Vilardi said. “We have a lot of weapons and we try to find the ones that are hot that night. When we play unselfish like that and play hard like that, we’re pretty good.
“We had a lot of time off at Christmas. So we’re starting to hopefully peak at the right time. I think we’re playing well right now. Kids are playing hard, kids are playing smart. We’re playing together, so we’re pretty happy.”