CRYSTAL RIVER — An early hole proved too deep for Crystal River to completely dig out, and the Pirates saw their season come to a close.
Hosting Eustis in a girls basketball Region 4A-2 quarterfinal on Thursday night, Crystal River couldn’t make up an 18-point deficit in the first half, losing to the visiting Panthers, 66-50.
“It was just not our night,” Crystal River head coach Charlie Bryant said. “They moved the ball exceptionally well. They were quick. They beat us to the basket. They had a lot of backdoor cuts; we couldn’t rebound. Our girls fought, they gave me everything they had. But it was just one of those games.
“I think Geno (Auriemma) said it the other day about UConn, everybody wants to know what happened. Well, you got outplayed. We got outplayed today.”
Though the Pirates (20-7) were able to stay at home thanks to their District 4A-6 championship won last Friday, Eustis (19-7) was actually ranked higher in the state rankings.
The Panthers certainly looked formidable in the opening quarter. Khaleah Douglas and Tanaujeah Brown combined to score 12 points and the team finished the period up 21-6. The advantage ballooned to 31-12 on a Kalea’ Rainey 3-pointer with just under five minutes to go in the half.
“I told them to play four minutes at a time. Win every four minutes,” Bryant said. “There is no miraculous 15-point shot. You’ve got to slowly chip away. That was our game plan, especially in the second half.”
Crystal River finished the first half on a 14-4 run to claw back in it, and made it a seven-point contest, 35-28, on Rikelle Trenary’s basket at the start of the third quarter.
“What worked was we were setting good screens,” Bryant said. “We were hustling. We were getting in the passing lanes and they made some mistakes at that point. It was part our defense, part them making mistakes, and we capitalized on it.
“We shot free throws exceptionally well today (14 of 18). Didn’t get to the line as much as I would have hoped but it’s hard to get to the line. They took away what we like to do. We like that high screen-and-roll and they played it exceptionally well. We struggled figuring out what to do when that screen-and-roll wasn’t there.”
Unfortunately for the Pirates, they could get no closer. Eustis responded with a 10-0 run capped by Brown’s fast-break layup off a steal by Cerina Rolle that made it 45-28 at 3:42 in the third.
The Panthers totaled 20 steals, five of them by Brown, who also had 15 points and six rebounds. Rainey had 25 points, four steals and two blocks, and Rolle added 11 points, eight boards, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Douglas chipped in with 12 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
Alysa Jenkins paced the Pirates with 25 points, in part by going 9 of 10 from the charity stripe and knocking down a pair of 3-pointers. She was the lone Crystal River player in double figures in scoring.
Haley Herman had seven points, nine rebounds and four steals. Hayleigh Sanders collected seven rebounds and two blocks.
“Overall, we won the third district championship in school history. It was a very successful season,” Bryant said. “The teams that beat us were all great teams. We won a lot of games that it was a toss-up. We won all the games we were supposed to win. We had some tough matchups on the season, but overall it was a great season. They’ve had a great 5-year run so far.”