Eastside squeezes by Citrus in OT


Eastside Rams center Thomas Lundy drives around Dunnellon Tigers defender Willie Robinson.

MATT STAMEY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.

They had been in this position before.

Facts

BASKETBALL GAME

* What: Eastside vs. Brooksville Nature Coast.

* When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

* Where: Eastside, 1201 SE 45th Terrace.

* Information: Call 352-955-6704.

Last year, the Eastside Rams lost to Palatka in the second round of the 5A state playoffs.

But that was last year. And that was without seniors Barry Johnson and Seth Brown, who both played as sophomores but did not play as juniors, and junior Darius Norman.

“I didn't want to lose my last game,” said Brown.

With the season on the line, the trio made just enough plays, along with their teammates, to edge visiting Inverness Citrus, 76-72, in overtime, in the Class 5A, Region 2 semifinals.

“This is big because last year I didn't play and we got knocked out of this game,” said Johnson, who led the Rams with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Norman finished with 17 points, including Eastside's first five points of the fourth quarter, while Brown, who was second with six rebounds, scored all 12 of his points in the second half.

“It was a great game,” said Eastside coach Herman “Pop” Williams. “I stressed to the kids it would be a tough game. “

It was tough. It was physical. But it was worth it.

The Rams had to scratch and claw their way to their ninth straight victory in a game which will require Johnson, who recently signed a football scholarship with Bethune-Cookman, to get stitches this morning.

Johnson's right eye was bandaged up and he was back on the floor to take yet another charge late in regulation, this time fouling out Hurricanes' senior point guard Devin Pryor, who led all scorers with 27 points.

“I'm used to it,” said Johnson. “You have to sacrifice to win.”

It was also a courageous effort by Pryor, who picked up his fourth foul with 3:37 to play in the third quarter, but he remained on the floor until he charged into Johnson with 23 seconds to play in regulation.

Junior Desmond Franklin kept Citrus (26-3) alive for the moment by hitting a shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime at 64-64. Franklin added 24 points in a losing effort for the Hurricanes, who had a 16-game winning streak snapped.

“It was a gutty, hard-fought game,” Williams said. “Both teams gave it all they had. We did a little more than they did to pull this one out.”

Both teams had the same number of field goals (28) and the score was never more than one point at the end of each quarter until the extra period.

Up next for the Rams (23-6) is a home game on Saturday night against Brooksville Nature Coast, a 70-64 winner over Tarpon Springs, in the regional final, with a trip to the state semifinals in Lakeland at stake.

“I told my team, don't be content,” said Brown. “We have a destination to get to.”

Eastside will be seeking its first trip to the state semifinals since the Rams' won the Class 5A state title in 2006.

“I'm trying to make it all the way,” added Johnson.

- Mike Ridaught

Dunnellon game

Despite a slow start, the Eastside High School boys basketball team beat visiting Dunnellon in a Florida High School Athletic Association regional quarterfinal game to advance to a semifinal game at home against Citrus County High School.

The Rams beat Dunnellon 69-57 last Thursday night to host Citrus (26-2) Tuesday night. (See game results above).

In the Dunnellon game, the Rams didn't score until senior forward Seth Brown scored off a tip-in with 5:02 left to play in the first period to make the score 2-0. The Rams played solid defense throughout the game, but didn't settle into an offensive rhythm until midway through the second period.

Eastside (22-6 after the win over Dunnellon) led 9-6 after the first period and stretched their lead to 14-6 after a basket by junior shooting guard Darrius Norman and a three-pointer by junior point guard Marquez Ross. Senior forward Barry Johnson, a Bethune-Cookman University football scholarship signee, then scored off a putback, as did junior forward Mike Nobles, to extend the Rams' lead to 18-6 with a little less than six minutes left to play in the first half.

The Rams cruised to victory from there, playing with a 20-point lead most of the second half. Norman led the Rams with 20 points.

Eastside coach Pop Williams said it was in the game plan for Norman to drive to the basket more, instead of relying on jump shots.

"Darrius really came out aggressive going to the basket because we watched them on film and knew they weren't that good on defense and we felt we could get to the basket on them," said Williams, who is in his 18th year as coach of the Rams.

Williams, who said he is trying to get junior guard Thomas Lundy to drive to the basket more, said it is a good thing when a coach has as many scoring options as he does with his team.

"We can go to different sets and get a couple player drives to the basket if they make the right reads and understand that if they get stopped going to the basket, they can kick the ball out," Williams said.

Williams said he feels good about his team's chances in the remainder of the state playoffs because of the competition his team played during the regular season.

"At Eastside, we have played some people, including GHS twice, Buchholz, even though they were a little down this year, and Lake Weir twice," Williams said. "At least eight of the teams we played this year made it to the playoffs."

Rams girls

The Eastside girls basketball team's season ended Feb. 11 in the FHSAA regional semifinal game against Citrus by a score of 42-30.

The Lady Rams finished the season 13-11.

- Cleveland Tinker

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