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Leopards have their followers guessing as playoff time nears

The streakiest team on the North Suncoast is at it again.

The Hernando Leopards, who started the season 2-0, then lost seven of eight, then won eight of nine, have gone in the opposite direction again. They've lost three in a row to Class 3A, District 9 rivals.

But coach Roger O'Neill hopes the team can put on one last spurt heading into the playoffs, and it may have started with a last-second 55-52 victory Friday at South Sumter.

The hero of the South Sumter game was Rodney Addison, who hit a 20-footer as time expired to give Hernando the win and enable the Leopards to wind up tied with Citrus for second in the Gulf Coast Conference at 7-3.

"He's worked on his (outside) shot real hard," O'Neill said of Addison. "He's really been working on his shot mechanics."

The win brought Hernando to 12-11 with two games left. Hernando faced Dunnellon on Thursday, and closes its season tonight at Tampa Jesuit.

Before the South Sumter win, the Leopards had been coming off three losses _ to Central, Citrus, and Springstead _ by a combined eight points.

"All three went down to the last minute, and certainly none of those teams are pushovers," said O'Neill. In fact, that troika is a combined 47-18, but only Central managed to sweep the season series from Hernando.

All three, as well as seventh-ranked Pasco, will stand in front of Hernando in Class 3A, District 9 tournament play, so the Leopards' post-season task would seem to be monumental.

The Leopards' six-man rotation, which includes leading scorer Marion Jones (15.9 points per game) and big men John Sims (6-foot-5) and Bo Brooks (6-4), might have to endure four games to win the title.

Still, give Hernando credit: The team never rolled over despite the tough times, especially in the first half of the season.

"They just started to work harder," O'Neill said.

Flip-flop completed: Friday's season-ending matchup between Springstead and Land O'Lakes, originally scheduled for Springstead, will be at Land O'Lakes, but the junior varsity will still start at 6 p.m., with the varsity to follow at 7:30.

The site change is a result of an early-season schedule conflict that produced a home-and-home switch. The game originally scheduled for Jan. 21 at Land O'Lakes was instead held Jan. 22 at Springstead.

Season wrap-up: Six games are on tap tonight as North Suncoast teams wrap up their regular seasons.

Leesburg visits Central and Williston visits Crystal River at 7 p.m.; Springstead plays at Land O'Lakes, Citrus plays host to Lake Weir and Lecanto travels to Dunnellon at 7:30 p.m.; and Hernando visits Tampa Jesuit at 8.

Central's season finale will be Saturday at Clermont at 7:30 p.m.

District tournaments start next week, with the 10-team 3A-9 tournament at Saint Leo College starting Wednesday, and the five-team 2A-8 tourney at Lecanto beginning Thursday.