The Weeki Wachee Varsity Boys basketball team (9-11) defeated the Hernando Leopards (8-14) by a razor-thin 64-61 margin in double overtime at the Hornets’ Nest on Tuesday evening. Coming into the matchup, both teams sported the same amount of victories at eight apiece, though Hernando had suffered two more losses. The cross-county rivals also shared a pair of common opponents – the Lecanto Panthers and the Central Bears – within their last trio of games. The Hornets and Leopards would fall to both teams as the two squads have struggled to find their footing this season. Based on the similarity of their schedules, it appeared the matchup would be hard-fought and give the winning side a chance to end the season strong heading into the final stretch. That is exactly what happened Tuesday night as the modest yet raucous Weeki Wachee crowd witnessed Head Coach Marc Cianci’s Hornets deliver a thrilling comeback victory over Hernando.
“So, Hernando’s probably the most athletic team we play all year, and I mean, we started out super slow,” Coach Cianci said. “I’m just proud of the adjustments we made at halftime, and through a bunch of overtimes we do not prep for.”
‘Adjustments’ is the operative word. Hernando struck early on two layups from Senior Michael Savarese and a pair of shots from beyond the arc by Senior Will Tigue. Throughout the first quarter, the home team would struggle mightily in putting points on the board. Through the first eight minutes of regulation, the Hornets had only netted 4 points to Hernando’s 12. These four points came on a pair of layups that were nearly four and a half minutes apart. At one point in the second period, the Green and Black were down by as much as 13 points. Weeki Wachee would go into the half down 23-13. Coming out of the intermission, the home team would go to work chipping away at the deficit. Buoyed by a strong third quarter that saw Junior Jean Garcia log seven points, the Hornets rode stronger offense and defense to trail by a more manageable 31-26 margin in the third quarter.
That is when the fireworks started, and the squads began trading baskets back and forth. Weeki Wachee claimed its first lead of the contest with roughly three minutes left in the fourth, but not so final, frame on a layup by Junior Isaac Priester. Hernando would answer less than 30 seconds later and retake the lead with a trey from Senior RJ Wilson. Hornets Senior Aidan Smith would tie the score at 37 after making one of two free throws soon after. With 1:52 left in the quarter, Wilson’s would-be layup to take the lead was nullified due to a foul. This brought on a roar from the crowd, who were very vocal in the fourth quarter and onward. Both sides erupted in jubilation from this point on when calls went their way or shots fell. No play brought louder cheers than the one that sent the home team to overtime. After the Leopards took a three-point lead on a pair of free throws by Wilson with 9.6 seconds remaining, Junior Matthew Stumpf took an inbounds pass and knocked down a game-tying shot from downtown as time expired.
With the score knotted at 41, the teams were headed to the first overtime. Head Coach Travis Bruns’ Leopards would take another four-point lead to open the extra period before Garcia scored six more points en route to another stalemate at 49 to end the first overtime period. Into the sixth and final frame, lead changes continued as both teams fought desperately to take home the victory. Stumpf would drain another critical three-pointer to help the Hornets retake the lead with 1:28 remaining. The Purple and Gold would regain the advantage for a final time when Wilson knocked down a pair of shots from the charity stripe. Following this, Priester would take control and score six of Weeki Wachee’s last seven points, including all four of his free throws, which he attempted in the remaining 50.5 seconds of the contest. The talented junior would rack up a total of 20 points on the evening, with each basket proving as important as the last in this late January classic. All told, Weeki Wachee would outscore the Leopards 51-38 after halftime and 57-41 over the final 30:10 of regulation and overtime. While opportune free throws and three-pointers were critically important in Weeki Wachee’s triumph over the Leopards, the Hornets’ coach was particularly pleased with his team’s defensive performance.
“So, Matt Stumpf with that buzzer-beater three that kept us in it, but I mean defensively, Quinton Hines shut down their best player [RJ Wilson],” Coach Cianci said. “I mean that was the main goal of the whole night, because I think he got probably 32 the first time we played them. So, that was our main objective, and I think we did pretty good at it.” That intentionality to defend Wilson was certainly felt throughout the night. Across the second half of regulation and both overtime periods, Wilson was held to a single field goal – the aforementioned fourth-quarter trey – and four points off free throws. The defense refused to let the visitors get into enough of a rhythm after halftime and began collecting more rebounds as the game wore on. This gave the Hornets the advantage they needed to escape with the 64-61 victory.
With the season nearing its end, Coach Cianci and the Hornets will be looking to “just keep doing the little things: rebounding, boxing out, making free throws.” With only four games remaining and a home tilt against the Hudson Cobras (1-14) on deck, Weeki Wachee will hope to parlay Tuesday’s thriller into another victory on Thursday night. The Leopards only have three games remaining on their slate as they travel to take on the Citrus Hurricanes (3-17) on Friday at 7:30.