CRYSTAL RIVER — Crystal River senior Ryan Helmdach’s 20-point second half helped turn a close game into a 71-51 win over Hernando in the District 4A-6 quarterfinals Monday.
The No. 4 Pirates (13-11) trailed by four points after the first quarter, before outscoring the No. 5 Leopards (4-21) 17-7 in the second quarter. Helmdach caught fire after halftime, including back-to-back corner 3s, and second-chance points put the game away.
“That was a big part of our win tonight, to get those second-chance rebounds and put up second-chance points. That helped a lot in the end,” junior forward Daunte Gunter said.
The Pirates travel to Weeki Wachee on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to face The Villages Charter in the semifinals. The Pirates were topped by the Buffalo 79-51 in their regular-season meeting.
The Pirates took both regular-season games against the Leopards and knew they were coming in determined to snap the streak. Initially, the Leopards’ defense pressured the Pirates into poor shots and a few turnovers, building a 18-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Pirates sailed in the second quarter, with a half-court press forcing turnovers and the Pirates earning a handful of points at the foul line. They entered halftime with a 31-25 lead and looking confident.
Helmdach’s confidence hit after halftime and his consecutive 3-pointers gave the team a nine-point lead. And while the Leopards tried to answer back, they could not draw any closer.
“My teammates did their job and we started getting some baskets and then second half, I came in with a better mindset. I was like, ‘I’m just going to go in here, I’m going to make some shots and we’re going to get this lead and win this ballgame,’ and that’s what we did,” Helmdach said of the turnaround.
The Pirates turned up the intensity after halftime with their rebounding, collecting numerous offensive rebounds. Though they struggled to convert on some of the opportunities, they earned several trips to the foul line to help secure the lead.
Gunter finished with 18 points, and senior guard Steven Thompson had seven steals. Jacob Batten led the Leopards with 22 points.