The Springstead Eagles (4-4) fell 44-41 to the Lecanto Panthers (6-2) at Greg O’Connell Court on Tuesday night. The Red, White, and Blue have had a solid albeit up and down season to this point. Coming into the matchup, they were on a two-game winning streak and every win they have has come by 18 points or more. They have also been plagued by stretches with little scoring at times. That proved to ground them against a Panthers squad whose only hiccups are a pair of relatively close losses to Central (5-1) and South Sumter (6-0). Head Coach Matt McGarry had hoped the timing would be right for the win, but they came up just short at the Eagles Nest.
“Lecanto is a pretty good team,” Coach McGarry said. “They were down a couple key players for them. So, if we were going to get them, it was going to be today, and it was going to be on our home court. They’re going to be a lot tougher over there at full strength, but we did a lot of good things. We did some things that we could definitely build off of, but overall, we got to do a better job committing to what wins us games.”
The game began well enough for both sides as much of the first quarter was back-and-forth. Lecanto opened the scoring to go up 5-1 early, but the Eagles would counter with a 15-4 run that stretched into the early moments of the second quarter. This was aided tremendously by a quick burst from Senior G Niko Cordello at the tail end of the opening period. The senior knocked down a pair of threes in the final minute of the first to give the home team the early lead. Things would begin to turn sour in the second frame.
“We jumped on them early with what wins us games and then we kind of strayed away,” said Coach McGarry. “Then we got back doing those same things but spending all your energy trying to mount a comeback versus doing it the whole night, that is the difference between winning and losing especially against the good teams.”
Then, the Panthers went on a run of their own. Spanning nearly the entirety of the second and third quarters, the visitors outscored Springstead 28-7 across 12:38 of game time. A host of Lecanto players got in on the scoring action to achieve this run including Caden Moore, Josh Patrick, JT Tipton, and Jaymison Conrad. The two teams’ disparity in this category would be one of the factors that led to the Eagles’ undoing.
When the home team finally got back in gear, they were forced to attempt a comeback of double the amount of their largest lead of the evening (14). Thanks to a burst of 7 points by Junior G Ryan Sayre in the span of 1:03, the Eagles were on the verge of a furious comeback. They could not get their last shots to fall, though, and the free throw differential finally decided things. After the intermission, the home team went a paltry 0-4 from the charity stripe while the Panthers were 7 of 8 from the line. Tipton, a sophomore, knocked down 5 in that span including the critical last two that would put Lecanto up 5 with 35 seconds left. Coach McGarry offered some reasons for his team’s struggles as well as some introspection after the game.
“Well, I guess it is continue to find the right personnel and see who’s continuing to buy in… Those moments where they stray away, that is a lack of buy-in,” Coach McGarry said. “They got to recognize that, but at the end of the day, as their leader, we’re only as strong as the leadership. So, maybe it is something I got to do to get better. I can’t completely be not to fault here… So, if I got to go back to reevaluate some of the things I am doing, then maybe it is that. At the end of the day, we got to get better if we want to be a better team.”
Looking ahead, the Panthers will return home to face the struggling Belleview Rattlers (1-5) in their next matchup. Lecanto appears poised to continue its strong play and win the seventh out of their last eight games on Thursday night. The Eagles will travel to take on the cross-county Hernando Leopards (4-5) on Friday night. The Purple and Gold are on a two-game winning streak and Coach McGarry will hope for more buy-in to get his team back in the win column.