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Consistency is a top priority for Leopards

Hernando trails Central by two games in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference standings, but coach Jeff Laing said the Leopards' Class 3A, District 6 standing concerns him most.

Hernando (5-1 district) leads Wildwood (4-2) by one game and Nature Coast Tech (3-3) by two with district games remaining against Nature Coast and South Sumter.

"We've got to focus up for districts and hopefully put ourselves into that No. 1 position of getting the first-game bye," Laing said.

Whether Hernando can hold off pursuers might depend on how well it can hold a lead. The Leopards (11-8 overall) lost a 12-point advantage in a 74-63 loss to Wildwood Jan. 23 and almost blew a 20-point lead before holding on to beat Pasco 75-67 Tuesday.

"We play very well in spurts," Laing said. "We just lost some of our focus in the second half of both games."

Hernando also might have lost guard Jeff Brown for at least one game. Brown was punched in the back of the leg when a Pasco player intentionally fouled him, causing a hamstring strain or deep bruise. Brown did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and will be a gametime decision tonight against Nature Coast.

SNAPPED: Central ended a 12-year losing streak to Leesburg with a 52-38 victory over the Yellowjackets Jan. 23, then had a seven-game win streak snapped in a 49-41 loss to Lecanto on Tuesday. Alex Ruoff scored 25, including a couple of key 3-pointers down the stretch, and Central allowed only 16 second-half points in beating Leesburg for the first time since 1991-92.

"We kind of got a monkey off our back," Central coach John Sedlack said.

Central had three days to enjoy the win before losing to Lecanto. The Bears got to the free-throw line only four times compared to 19 for the Panthers, and Ruoff was limited by a back injury sustained during the holiday break. Ruoff will sit out tonight's game against Clermont East Ridge in hopes of being ready for the final weeks of the regular season.

"We've got our fingers crossed it's just a muscle and he can bounce back," Sedlack said. "Maybe a little rest and treatment will do him some good."

MAKING A RUN: After Tuesday's overtime victory over Wildwood, Nature Coast's third in five games, the first-year Sharks are on pace to earn the No. 3 seed for the 3A-6 tournament. Nature Coast is 1{ games ahead of fourth-place Pasco (1-4) and South Sumter (1-4) with two district games remaining.

"We just want to get better as the season progresses," Nature Coast coach Bob Strong said. "We knew it would take some time to develop and get our team together because everybody's learning a new system."

CANCELED: Thursday's game between Hernando and Jesuit was canceled so the Leopards would not exceed the maximum 25 games, Laing said. The teams scheduled the game with the understanding it could be canceled depending on whether Hernando played three or four games in the Kingdom of the Sun Invitational. The Leopards played four.

A STEP BACK: Hernando Christian Academy (4-4) slipped to .500 with a 76-34 loss to Ocala St. John Lutheran on Jan. 23. Mandella Myers scored 15 and Jon Whitten had 10 to combine for 74 percent of the Lions' points. No other player had more than three.

_ FRANK PASTOR

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