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Lowly Lecanto starts turning its season around

Seven straight weeks of losing would finish a lot of teams, and after a 12-game losing streak, Lecanto could have packed in its season as well.

The Panthers, who stood 1-12 after winning their season opener Dec. 3, slowly started the road back to respectability on Jan. 30 with a 66-57 win over Dunnellon.

But following two more losses, Lecanto has turned around its fortunes convincingly the last week, winning three straight including two in the Gulf Coast Conference. Now the Panthers are 5-14.

"It feels nice to win a few," Lecanto coach D.J. Lincoln said. "We're still having a hard time putting together four solid quarters, but fortunately, so have our opponents."

Lincoln cites a good defense and improved offensive aggressiveness as factors in the team's recent play.

The Panthers have been led all season by center John Sites, who is third in Citrus County in scoring at 13.0 points a game, and C.J. Natteal, who hit for 21 points Tuesday in a 73-64 win against South Sumter.

The schedule will also be fairly kind to Lecanto the last week of the season, as they face Dunnellon again as well as first-year school River Ridge. But the Panthers still need to be careful; River Ridge's one win this year came in an early-season contest against Lecanto.

Still, if the Panthers emerge from next week with their confidence intact, they may be in good shape for the Class 2A, District 8 tournament. The five-team district is one of the weakest in the state, with two teams (Wildwood and Dunnellon) right around .500, and the other three teams (Crystal River, South Sumter and Lecanto) far below it.

Plus, Lecanto gets to host the tournament, giving the Panthers an added advantage.

"I think anybody likes to play their (district) tournament at home," Lincoln said. "I'd like to think it's going to help us."

Number one with a bullet: Scott Toumbleston, who has been among the North Suncoast's scoring leaders all season, has taken a stranglehold on the lead, thanks to an outburst the last three games.

The senior guard, who was averaging 16.3 points as of two weeks ago, has scored 95 points since.

He started off with a 20-point performance against Central, lifting his average slightly, to 16.6. Then he really took off, scoring a season-high 39 points, including 11-of-15 from the foul line, to pace Citrus to a win against South Sumter Feb. 7.

He followed that performance with 36 points in Tuesday's win against Hernando, including seven three-pointers, tying the school record that he had set earlier in the season, also against Hernando.

Toumbleston has passed Central's Tyrone Goodson on the scoring charts, averaging 18.9 points a game to Goodson's 18.7.

Final roundup: Tonight is the last night of Gulf Coast Conference action, with Central visiting Lecanto, Citrus playing host to Crystal River and Hernando traveling to South Sumter.

Central (15-6 overall, 8-1 conference) has already wrapped up the school's first conference crown. Hernando and Citrus, both 6-3 in the conference, are left to fight it out for second place.

Stone out: Springstead, which had been one of the few teams in the area to avoid any major on-court shakeups this year, suffered its first one this week when leading scorer A.J. Stone left the team.

Stone, who is headed for the U.S. Naval Academy on a football scholarship, left the team in a dispute with coach Greg O'Connell, apparently over playing time. The senior had been averaging around 13 points a game.

"It's just an unfortunate situation," O'Connell said. "Only he'd really know why (he left)."