SPRING HILL — In 16 quarters against Springstead this season, Hudson coach Jason Vetter employed every gimmick defense, every offensive set, every motivational tool he could conceive to try and nudge his team past its local nemesis.
But by around 8:45 Tuesday night, after his team's 72-49 loss in the Class 4A region semifinals, the only thing Vetter had left to throw at the Eagles was a concession speech.
"When you lose four times to somebody they're just better," Vetter said. "We just don't quite have enough."
Not quite enough scorers, not enough athleticism to accompany their grit, and certainly not enough offensive rebounding. Those facts were crystallized Tuesday before a boisterous crowd of a few hundred who watched the hosts (29-0) earn their first region final berth ever.
Springstead hosts Ocala West Port (23-6) Saturday at 7, with a berth in the state tournament at stake.
"This team started last year when we lost to Hudson (in the district semifinals)," Eagles second-year coach Pat Kelly said.
"And I said to myself, 'What do I have to do to beat that team?' And we had to get more versatile on defense so we wouldn't sacrifice our athleticism running around. They're not going to turn it over, so you've got to be about something on defense."
Team defense — the Eagles' modus operandi during this landmark season — manifested itself initially in the first quarter, when the Eagles pounced on Hudson miscues to go on a 9-0 run and take a 15-9 lead. Nick Steadman had five of his 10 points during that spurt.
Hudson's problems snowballed in the second half as the hosts embarked on a 13-3 run for a 32-16 advantage. The first six points of the run resulted directly from turnovers; the last two, an Isaiah Mason basket, followed a traveling whistle against the Cobras.
"It was defense. Defense," said Mason, who finished with 18 points. "That was all we focused on at the beginning of the game, because we knew our offense was going to come to us."
The Cobras (20-9), fresh off the first playoff win in program history, clawed back behind senior Jarrod Branco, who scored nine of his 21 points in the third quarter.
With Eagles guard Dante Valentine (21 points) on the bench in foul trouble, Branco scored seven in the final 1:54 of the third to cut Hudson's deficit to 47-43.
When Valentine returned, so did the Eagles' offensive juice. He scored six points during a 9-0 fourth-quarter run, with two of the baskets coming via offensive rebounds.
"Tonight that was the story, the offensive rebounding," Vetter said.
"That's been one of our Achilles' heels all year, we're not a strong offensive rebounding team. And at some point in the playoffs that's going to get you."