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Gators crush Royal Knights to win SAC title

The Land O'Lakes machine looked very human for the first half of Thursday night's contest against visiting River Ridge.

Then again, that never has been the Gators' strength to begin with.

Defense. Now that's their game.

The Gators proved it in resounding fashion against the Royal Knights in a 51-29 defensive rout to clinch the Sunshine Athletic Conference championship.

Land O'Lakes has won a school-record 23 games, and the Gators will try to make it 24 tonight in the most important game of the season: at East Lake for an 8 p.m. Class 5A, District 10 showdown to determine the top seed in the district tournament.

The Gators improved to 23-2, with a 12-0 SAC record and a 9-0 district record.

Land O'Lakes handed East Lake its lone district loss earlier this season at The Swamp.

Sitting in the stands Thursday was Eagles' star Corey Bailey and some of his East Lake teammates, scouting the Gators one last time before tonight's clash.

An East Lake win would tie the district, leaving it to a coin flip to decide the top seed. Land O'Lakes, though, could wrap up that top seed with a win.

Gator coach Dave Puhalski was happy just to be scouted.

"That's fine with me. It means we're in (the race)," he said. "I like the attention. Better than no one showing up for our games."

Jeff Baisley led Land O'Lakes with 18 points and sank four three-pointers. Ryan Van Blarcom had 12 and Brian Baisley 10. Joe Hoolihan led River Ridge with 11.

Both teams started with great defensive efforts. But as the Gators' defense clamped down while their offense started to pick up, the Knights' couldn't keep up.

A six-point halftime lead was up to 11 by the third quarter and as much as 22 in the fourth. Land O'Lakes held River Ridge to eight field goals total, and the Knights didn't score in double-figures in any quarter.

The Royal Knights (15-8 overall, 5-4 in 5A-10, 10-4 in SAC) lost their offensive focus, coach Ian Mooney said.

"Definitely, we played great defense in that first half," he said. "But I think we just had too many mental breakdowns offensively in that second half."

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