WESLEY CHAPEL — A few River Ridge fans muttered among themselves with 3:38 left. Their team was down 10 points.
“This thing is not over,” they repeated to one another, swearing their team still had a chance.
The Royal Knights didn’t catch up. Wesley Chapel won 59-47 after pulling away in the third quarter.
“I told them we needed to pick up our defense and make better shot selection,” Wildcats coach Doug Greseth said. “I think we did that in the third quarter, and that’s what won it for us.”
The postseason looms for both teams. Wesley Chapel (14-2, 6-1) is second in Class 5A, District 7. With less than three weeks left until the district tournament, Greseth said the Wildcats are focused on improving every aspect of their game.
“We want to be peaking at the right time,” Greseth said.
Though they’ve faltered against nondistrict foes, the Royal Knights (9-9, 6-4) have fared well in district play. River Ridge is third in 5A-8 behind undefeated Tarpon Springs and Land O’Lakes. It faces the Gators on Jan. 17.
Going into the second quarter, Wesley Chapel led by four points. Corey Smith sank a layup with about three minutes left, giving River Ridge its first lead, 26-25.
Free throws on both sides tied the score at 27 points with less than a minute left in the half, and River Ridge’s Kyle McCoy held the ball for 45 seconds. A series of fouls bounced the ball back and forth, and the buzzer sounded with the score tied.
Wesley Chapel’s Brian Rodriguez thundered past defenders throughout the third quarter. A streak of steals and shots at the rim pulled the Wildcats ahead. They scored 21 points in the third and kept the Royal Knights to 10.
River Ridge continued its dogged pace in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough to make up the deficit. The Wildcats had another 11 points, and the Royal Knights added 10 more.
Carson Emery led the Wildcats’ offensive push with 17 points. Marcus Hayne had 14 points, and Rodriguez had 12.
John Childs was River Ridge’s top scorer with 12 points. Eliseo Sanchez and Smith each added 10.