DADE CITY — Pasco coach Norman Jackson can see the rapid improvement of his team from a year ago when the Pirates won two games and were blown out of the gym most nights.
Pasco has already surpassed its win total from last season. The Pirates have been competitive in every game, despite limited practice time as half the roster plays football and got a late start to the basketball season.
Jackson has his team on the verge of being a contender in Class 4A, District 7. Now he just has to teach his Pirates how to close out tight games.
Pasco stayed right on the heels of Ridgewood throughout its 55-50 loss Friday but couldn't make the plays down the stretch.
"They blew us out bad last year, both games," Jackson said. "This year, we're playing a whole lot better. We haven't learned how to finish close games yet."
Twice, Pasco (3-4), which trailed by as many as eight in the second half, cut the Rams' lead to two in the fourth quarter. But each time the Pirates got close, Ridgewood (7-2) responded. Ahead 44-42 with 3:10 to go, the Rams went on an 8-2 run.
"We had some of the best possessions all year in the last couple minutes of the game," Ridgewood coach Mike Bua said.
Pasco's Jacob Guy (eight points) drained his first 3-pointer of the night to pull the Pirates to within five with 34 seconds left. Donald Simmons, who led all scorers with 18 points, hit another 3 with 10 seconds remaining for Pasco to make it a three-point game. Ridgewood's Thomas Rodriguez, though, made 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch.
"We hit some big free throws, which has been a struggle for us," Bua said.
Pasco led 6-2 early before Ridgewood ignited, scoring 10 straight points, capped by a 3-pointer from Brandon Harrison to go up 12-6 in the second quarter. Harrison had another 3 later in the second, and Ridgewood went into halftime ahead 29-23.
"Brandon Harrison hit some big shots for us, kind of gave us some breathing room in the second quarter," Bua said.
Scott Kujak had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Rodriguez chipped in 11 points to lead Ridgewood. Pasco's Hakeeme Ishmar had 12 points and eight rebounds.