TRINITY — As the seconds ticked down to the end of River Ridge’s season, sophomore John Childs sat at the end of the bench, alone, with his head down, staring at the hardwood floor at Mitchell.
His triple double wasn’t enough to begin one of the most unlikely region runs in Pasco County history.
The Royal Knights — winners of only two regular-season games — hung tough early but faltered late in Wednesday’s 58-43 loss to top-seeded Land O’Lakes in the District 6A-10 semifinal.
“He took it on his shoulders tonight,” River Ridge coach Chuck Butler said of Childs. “He tried his best to win the game for the team. It was just a little too much.”
Just advancing to the semifinal was a victory for River Ridge (3-22). The Royal Knights had only one win when head coach Rick Conn left the team four games ago because of too many technical fouls, Butler said.
Butler, the JV coach, inherited the head coaching job and led River Ridge to a win over Fivay in the regular-season finale and a first-round victory over Tarpon Springs on Tuesday night.
But the Knights couldn’t get past the Gators (20-6), who advance to Friday’s district title game against Mitchell after the Mustangs’ 63-46 victory over Sunlake.
Childs fueled River Ridge’s hot start. The 6-foot-8 sophomore — who became academically eligible only three weeks ago — had a putback dunk and slammed home an alley-oop to help the Royal Knights jump out to a 14-7 lead after the first quarter. Childs finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks.
“Oh my god,” Butler said of Childs’ performance.
But Land O’Lakes eventually showed why it has won 13 games in a row. The Gators forced 15 turnovers in the second and third quarters and outscored River Ridge 40-19 in that span to clinch a trip to regionals.
Senior guard Ernest McClendon led the comeback, scoring 18 of his team-high 20 in the second and third quarters.
Senior Mike Morrow added 13 points for the Gators, and River Ridge’s Malik Moore chipped in 11 points and six rebounds.
Mitchell 63, Sunlake 46: The Mustangs (20-6) started the second quarter on an 11-0 run to pull away from Sunlake (10-14) and ease into the district championship game.
The Seahawks stayed close early as Mitchell star guard Jake Driscoll struggled. Driscoll, a Division I prospect who is still recovering from a broken left arm, missed 11 of his first 13 shots before igniting in the second half. He finished with a game-high 27 points and eight rebounds.
“That’s the real Jake Driscoll,” coach Jared St. Charles said.
Bernie Conley scored 13 for Mitchell, and teammate Jordan Dong added 10. Seniors Pedro Pabon and Jimmy Bragg led Sunlake with eight each.
7A-9: Kerney scores 32 as Wiregrass advances
TAMPA — Wiregrass Ranch has just one returning starter from last season’s district championship team, but he made sure the Bulls are getting a shot at another title.
Rico Kerney scored a game-high 32 in Wednesday’s Class 7A, District 9 semifinal, leading Wiregrass Ranch to an 85-75 win over Steinbrenner.
Host Chamberlain, which also won a district title last season, defeated Freedom 75-48 in the other semifinal. The Chiefs (16-7) will play the Bulls in Friday’s championship game at 7:30 p.m.
Wiregrass Ranch (16-9) survived a seesaw battle. There were nine ties and 12 lead changes as the Bulls blew a 39-29 halftime lead to fall behind by five early in the fourth quarter.
Wiregrass Ranch regrouped and pulled away down the stretch, outscoring the Warriors 33-18 in the final quarter.
“Our kids did a great job adjusting and we made plays in the fourth quarter,” Bulls coach Jeremy Calzone said.
Larrentz Manora added 22 points for the Bulls while the Warriors (11-10) got 24 points from Isaiah Gonclaves.
Wiregrass Ranch was a region finalist last season.
5A-7: Nature Coast gets boost from seniors
BROOKSVILLE — One of the best districts in the state rounded up the way it was expected to Wednesday with Nature Coast and Eustis easily handling their semifinal opponents.
The two will meet in Friday’s Class 5A, District 7 championship after Nature Coast disposed of Tavares 79-51 at home.
“The seniors really led us in this one,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “There was a lot of pressure on us to win, and they knew it.”
The Sharks (22-2) were led by UMass commitment Tyler Bergantino and sophomore transfer Rohan Blackwood, who each had a team-high 16 points. Florida Gulf Coast commit Blake Lowman led all players with 10 assists.
Whether that will be good enough to beat Eustis (23-3) remains to be seen. The Panthers knocked off Hernando (10-13) in the earlier game, and the Sharks and Eustis split their meetings this season. The Panthers won the first game by 17, and Nature Coast got revenge in the second by 10.
“To be able to beat Eustis we’ll need to play well,” Pisarcik said. “We played well tonight, but whether or not that was well enough to beat them, I don’t know. It’s really a toss-up.”
Both teams ran out to big leads quickly in their semifinals.
“We’re ready for the challenge,” Pisarcik said.
6A-6: Central comes close
Central came within an eyelash of doing something the school hasn’t done in eight years — reaching the state playoffs.
Playing in the Class 6A, District 6 semifinals against top seed West Port at Lecanto, the Bears fell 55-52.
With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Central (13-11) had a four-point lead and looked like it was about to upset the defending district champion. However, a couple turnovers from the inexperienced Bears changed momentum.
West Port (16-9) was able to take a two-point lead with three seconds left, but Central went to the free-throw line with a chance to tie. After missing the front end, the game was all but out of reach.
“It was a tough game,” Central coach Matt Zandecki said. “We played these guys tough, but in the end we came up short.”
Rudy Robinson, the junior transfer from Texas, was the team’s leading scorer with 24. John Anderson, who just came back late in the season from academic ineligibility, was next with nine. Daniel Robinson added eight.
After starting the season 9-2, a slight drought hit the team. However, the Bears bounced back in time for the district tournament, making a solid run. Wednesday’s loss to the Wolf Pack was their third of the year, but each was by less than six points.
“We struggled when (starting center) Troy Stewart went out,” Zandecki said. “Then we got John Anderson and John Davis back from academic issues, and we had to jell all over again.”
Central returns the starting next season and has an entire offseason to work.
Correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Steve Lee contributed to this report.