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Success sells Pirates on press

Of the full-court press, basketball coach Scott Lyons said "it's 94 feet of work."

Because of that, it can be a difficult sell. Until, that is, the players see the rewards.

"When we get easy transition baskets, it gets everybody involved," Lyons said.

The press might be the single greatest key to Crystal River's improved play. After a midseason lull, the Pirates (14-6, 7-4 in Class 4A, District 9) have won five of six. They play host to Citrus tonight at 7.

"We're playing better," Lyons said. "When the front end of our press is applying pressure, we're a very effective defense. That's the key. The offense really revolves around our transition game and what the defense creates."

In a 26-point rout of Clermont East Ridge on Tuesday, Crystal River forced 25 turnovers. It lost to the Knights by a point in December.

"It was awesome," Lyons said. "It was probably our best (press) of the year."

Sophomore guard Lacey Lyons, Scott's daughter, leads in scoring (23 points a game; 1,147 for her career) and rebounds (eight). Junior guard Amber Clark (8.2 points, 6.4 rebounds) is another solid contributor. And freshman center Meghan Hirsch has been a spark, posting double-digit rebound totals in three of the past four games.

The Pirates' playoff fate might depend on how they fare against Lecanto. The Panthers beat Crystal River earlier in the season and in a preseason game. The rematch is next Friday, and they could meet again in the district tournament.

Because one is likely to finish as the district's second seed and the other third, the potential is there for a semifinal showdown to determine who makes the playoffs.

"They're so guard-oriented," Scott Lyons said. "What our strength is, is their strength also. They can break the press, and they have a bunch of shooters."

COMING ON: The soccer squad enters the stretch at full strength and playing its best.

The Pirates (7-11-3) beat Ocala West Port 5-0 last week and 2-0 earlier this week. Senior midfielder Amber Keller scored once in each game, and sophomore midfielder Katie Ezzell had a combined three assists.

It was only the second time this season Crystal River had won back-to-back games and the first time the Pirates had posted consecutive shutouts.

Keeper Robyn Tisdale, out several weeks with a broken thumb, has returned to the lineup. That has allowed Lauren Cummins to move from keeper back to her spot at midfield.

"That has made us stronger," coach Rob McDougal said.

The 4A-9 tournament begins Monday. "We're feeling pretty good," McDougal said.