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HomeSportsBasketballBears Mount Comeback, Defeat Spartans in Regional Quarterfinal

Bears Mount Comeback, Defeat Spartans in Regional Quarterfinal

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The Central Bears (22-6) came back in the second half to overtake the Lakewood Spartans (10-16) by a 67-59 margin in their home regional quarterfinal on Thursday night. Following their matchup, the Bears are enjoying a dominant 10-2 stretch during the back half of the season. The Navy and Silver trailed by as many as nine points to their 4A District 10 foe before using a strong third frame to nab the lead for good. Central Head Coach Matt Zandecki felt his squad playing tight early and delivered a halftime message that would shift the tides of battle.


“If we play like that for another half, there is going to be a lot of tears in the locker room,” said Coach Zandecki. “[Lakewood] came out tough. They were not intimidated. They really punched us in the mouth. It is a credit to them. I think when you are in an elimination game like that, everybody starts thinking, ‘Oh, it could be our last game.’ I just told them to slow down, have a little fun, do what we do, and that is what I thought we did.”


The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair before a corner three by Elijah Davis put the visitors up by six with 1:22 to go. They would hold a few score lead for much of the second thanks to a trio of two-point field goals by Junior Aydan Clinton. On the heels of the junior’s third score, the visitors would hold a 26-17 lead with 3:23 left in the half – their largest of the evening. From this point on, the home team continued to inch closer approaching halftime thanks to the group effort of Seniors Braden Joyner, David Villarroel, and Tykel Williams. Joyner and Villaroel even had back-to-back steals into fast break layups during this stretch. Despite a few turnovers throughout the half that cut into their momentum at times, the Bears would go into the intermission with a hard fought 31-27 deficit.


Central, 21, David Villarroel scores a layup between Lakewood defenders, 23, Melvion Wallace and, 0, Elijah Davis during the Bears' quarterfinal victory. [Photo by Cynthia Leota]
Central, 21, David Villarroel scores a layup between Lakewood defenders, 23, Melvion Wallace and, 0, Elijah Davis during the Bears’ quarterfinal victory. [Photo by Cynthia Leota]

“[Lakewood] came out tough,” Central’s head coach said. “They were not intimidated. They really punched us in the mouth. It is a credit to them […] They are a physical team. They got some big boys. They kept banging them.”

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The Bears came out of the break loose and on fire. They scored the first two baskets to tie up the match roughly 30 seconds into the third quarter. Lakewood quickly responded with two scores of their own before the home team unleashed 14 straight points. Villarroel got the scoring started with a trey at the three and half minute mark and it snowballed from there. Senior Jeroen “JD” Watson nabbed a steal and lofted up a field goal near the top of the key to retie the game at 36. Villaroel and Williams knocked down the next two before a Villaroel steal set up Watson for another short two-pointer with 2:30 left. Over the next minute, Sophomore Ethan Bergantino logged a pair of steals with the second leading to a fast break layup. Senior Braden Joyner finished off the stretch with his own steal before being fouled on another fast break layup attempt. The senior knocked down one of his shots from the charity stripe for the 45-36 lead late in the third.


Over 9:38 of game time, the Navy and Silver outscored their opponent 28-10 and turned a nine-point deficit into a nine-point advantage. Under a minute into the final frame, Joyner went down with an injury on an attempted layup in which he was fouled. He would leave the court temporarily before returning to gut out the rest of the game. The foul he drew was converted into a free throw by Sophomore Xavior Haegele who stood in for the banged-up senior. With the difference sitting at nine with 1:31 remaining in regulation, Joyner drew three late fouls, which he converted into five points to salt the game away. For his part, Lakewood’s own number four, David Larkin, netted 23 points to consistently keep his squad in the game, though it would not be enough.


“[Braden] is a strong player,” Coach Zandecki said. “He does not know how to back down. He thinks he is seven foot himself. He has been doing that for four years. He is the quarterback of our football team. He is one of the toughest kids I ever coached. He got us back. Then JD, Tykell, Ethan, they basically said, ‘we are not losing, not today,’ and we got that dub.”


Central will hope to keep their season rolling when they face off against the Gateway Eagles (21-3) next week. They will travel to take on the Eagles in the regional semifinals at 7 pm on Tuesday.


Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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