The Weeki Wachee Varsity Boys Basketball team (12-12) defeated the Gulf Buccaneers (6-17) by a comfortable 62-42 margin on Thursday night, Feb. 2, at the Hornets’ Nest. This home game was not only senior night for the Green and Black, but it was also their final matchup of the regular season. While Weeki Wachee had somewhat of an up-and-down year, their win on Thursday brought their record to 4-1 over the final five games of their 2022-2023 campaign. Gulf had hoped to end a disappointing season on a positive note, but Head Coach Marc Cianci’s Hornets did not allow that as they took the lead in the first quarter and never relinquished control as they expanded their lead throughout the evening.
“Big senior night for us,” Coach Cianci said. “We started out kind of slow, picked it up in the middle, started off slow again, picked it up towards the end, but overall it was a good performance by us. Gulf’s a really good team. [Senior Trent Phillips] is probably the best shooter in Pasco County by far. I’m sure the scorebook will tell you that too. We just got to keep playing defense. We got districts Tuesday now, and that’s kind of what we’re really looking forward to.”
While the game would tip the home team’s way, it was contested early. It took until over two minutes into the matchup for either team to put points on the board. Hornets Senior Aidan Smith would get the scoring started with a midrange jumper, but Gulf answered right back when Senior Steve Lamothe drove inside for a short two-point basket 30 seconds later. The first quarter continued much in the same way, with Weeki Wachee scoring and the visitors answering. Then, following a timeout with less than two minutes left in the initial frame, the white jersey-clad Hornets would turn a tight 11-10 lead into a 17-10 advantage by the end of the quarter. This was thanks to a layup and free throw by Junior Jean Garcia and a shot from downtown by Senior Anthony Wilson – the second of four seniors enjoying their final home game with the Hornets.
With the engine running, Coach Cianci’s squad would begin to press their advantage. Less than 30 seconds into the second period, Wilson would knock down another shot from beyond the arc. To finish their run of 13 straight points, Senior Quinton Hines logged a steal and a breakaway layup to make it 24-10. The home team would double up the Buccaneers 32-16 near the end of the second, but a late three by Phillips gave the visitors some life going into the intermission. This allowed Gulf High to inch closer to an 11-point deficit by the end of the third frame following the slow start out of the half for the home team. That is when Smith made some key plays to begin to ice the game for Weeki Wachee.
“So, Aidan [Smith], he’s a character,” Coach Cianci said. “Very outgoing, very outspoken, but definitely one of the hardest workers we got. He’s a senior. So, he said, ‘It’s senior night; I’m going to try my best.’ Especially all of our seniors.”
With 6:36 left in regulation and the score still at 41-30, Garcia logged a layup after Smith had fought for the ball on the ground and passed it to him. With just under six minutes to go, Smith would score after rebounding a missed layup by Wilson. After a three by Garcia two and a half minutes later, the Buccaneers began fouling the home team in an attempt to get the ball back down 17 points. To no avail, though. They would get no closer, and Hornets Junior Isaac Priester would knock down a shot from beyond the arc as time expired to bring the game to its 62-42 conclusion. Looking forward to the district tournament, Coach Cianci emphasized the importance of scoring more consistently if the Hornets wish to advance.
“So, we got Crystal River,” the Hornets’ coach said. “Runs a zone again, kind of like Gulf. We just got to execute more on offense. I feel like we go through slumps of scoring, and then we have to rely on defense, which is great, but we got to step our offense up if we’re going to have a chance next week.”
District Tournament Preview
Their strong finish to the season helped Weeki Wachee earn the third seed in the 2023 Boys Basketball District Tournaments – 4A District 9. The Hornets will face the sixth-seed Crystal River Pirates (5-18), in the district quarterfinal on Tuesday night, Feb. 7. While the Pirates’ season did not exactly go according to plan, having lost seven of their last eight, knocking off the higher-seeded Hornets and making it to at least the semifinals would be a plus for their squad heading into the offseason.
The victor will go on to face the winner of the quarterfinal between second seed Nature Coast (14-11) and seventh seed Hudson (3-16) – also on Tuesday. The Sharks should be heavily favored heading into this matchup as they have a far superior record and had already bested the Cobras earlier in the season by a commanding 48 points. The third and final quarterfinal will take place between the fourth seed Hernando Leopards (8-15), and the fifth seed Anclote Sharks (5-15).
The top-seeded Central Bears will await the outcome of the Leopards-AncloteSharks matchup fresh-faced, as their seeding afforded them the lone bye slot in the bracket. The Bears possess a 19-6 season record and hold an 8-0 record over the other teams in their bracket. Will Central continue their dominant ways and win the tournament, or will a lower seed knock them off? In the case of Coach Cianci’s Hornets, they will look to get off to a faster start to emerge victorious in their upcoming games.
Meanwhile, Springstead (10-13), the lone Hernando County team in 6A District 4, will face off against Mitchell (16-9) Tuesday, Feb. 7, in the district quarterfinal.