The Weeki Wachee Hornets (15-7) narrowly defeated the Hernando Leopards (12-10) by a razor thin 56-54 edge on Tuesday night. The Green and Black made the brief cross-county trip to Hernando sporting a three-game winning streak. Over that span, the Hornets had eviscerated each of their prior opponents by at least 39 points. Head Coach Billy Hughes’ squad had already downed the Leopards handily earlier this season 48-29. While they pulled out the win yet again, the game was hotly contested by the home team on Tuesday.
The Hornets’ head coach felt his team “came out with intensity tonight right off the bat” and “played our brand of basketball,” particularly at the beginning of each half. Though Coach Hughes felt they “got a little lazy” in the second period, he felt the team came out “hot” in the penultimate frame. Then the players “just got cold” during long stretches of the fourth quarter and the score certainly reflected the late struggles. “Hats off to Hernando,” Coach Hughes said. “Their staff have done a fantastic job.”
When the visitors stepped onto the court, the game looked like it might turn into one of their recent routs or even the more modest 19-point victory over the Leopards earlier this month. Under two minutes into the contest, the Hornets were up 13-2 thanks in large part to Senior Paige Atwater’s trio of treys over that span. Hernando would then find some life to end the opening period as Freshman Ayana Kincade scored 7 points in the first to help the Leopards to a manageable 19-12 deficit.
“Paige Atwater is a special ball player […] She is a big leader of our team,” said Coach Hughes. “One of our many leaders we have. So, when the ball is in her hands, things go pretty well.”
The Purple and Gold would parlay this uptick in play into a run of their own in the second frame as they outscored the visitors 19-15. The home team outscored Weeki Wachee 13-5 over the final 2:36 of the half. Freshman Aislin Ruppe also logged a trio of shots from beyond the arch and Sophomore Savannah Condron sank a three as time expired to bring the score within three. Scoring runs played a crucial role in the Tuesday’ matchup and the visitors were able to narrowly outlast the Leopards because of their runs early in the halves.
To open the second half, the Hornets exploded out of the gate. Their suddenly tenuous three-point lead ballooned into a game-high 14-point advantage within 3:49 of game time. Seconds into the third quarter, Atwater knocked down another three to get the scoring started before Freshman Joelys Rodriguez made a trio of shifty two-point shots to give the visitors the commanding lead. The route was on, or so it seemed.
After hanging around just within striking distance for the remainder of the third period, Coach Brittany Martin’s Leopards would make one last push. Once the Hornets regained their 14-point lead with just under 7 minutes to play, the home team outscored the Green and Black 14-2 throughout the rest of the matchup. While Ruppe and Kincade contributed during this stretch, Senior Kayla Holloman scored 7 critical points to put the Leopards within 2 points. It would be too little too late, though, as Hernando missed a pair of shots late and Senior Gabby Scott held onto the ball as time expired.
“Basketball is all about runs,” Coach Hughes said as he referenced the multiple stretches of scoring each team had. “We [went] on our run; they went on their run […] They just kept fighting back.” The head was glad to see them maintain the “no quit” attitude that they have displayed all season.
Looking to the final stretch of the season, only a handful of games remain on the schedule. For the Leopards, they will host the Hudson Cobras on Friday at 7:30. Their final two games will see them travelling to Springstead before hosting the Crystal River Pirates to close out the year. The Hornets only have two games remaining as they will host Nature Coast Tech and the Hudson Cobras. Coach Hughes and company will tip off against the Sharks at 7:30 on Thursday.