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Enthusiasm continues to build for Buccaneers

Ridgewood and Wesley Chapel have been the powers in the Class 4A, District 10, but a young Gulf team quietly has established itself as the best of the rest. The Buccaneers locked up the district's No. 3 seed with a buzzer-beater win at Tarpon Springs on Tuesday night.

Down seven with 1:40 remaining, Gulf fouled the right people, hit shots and clawed back. Trailing 67-66 with 2.8 seconds remaining, the Bucs inbounded to leading scorer Justin Sconiers, who took a long 3 that fell short. Guard Andrew Ross caught it and took a shot in one quick motion, pulling out a 68-67 win.

With his players celebrating in a pile under the basket, the final play reminded coach Steve Feldman of N.C. State's winning basket in the 1983 NCAA Championship game, when Dereck Whittenburg's last-second 3 was caught and dropped in by Lorenzo Charles to upset Houston, sending the late Jim Valvano scrambling around the court looking for someone to hug.

"I looked a little like Valvano out there," said Feldman, whose team moved to 9-9, 6-2 in district. "I saw them all celebrating and I just jumped into the pile. Some of them were surprised how I reacted, but this is an emotional game. When all I do is walk away and act calm, that's when I know I need to turn in my whistle and keys."

Gulf had five players score in double figures, capitalizing on a box-and-one defense designed to limit Sconiers, who had 10. Gaetano Puccio and Ross each had 14, freshman David Frazier had 11. The Bucs got a season-high 14 from junior forward Corey Crossway, who was lost for the season when he tore ligaments in his left ankle in the fourth quarter.

Gulf's district losses are to the Rams and Wildcats, and they'll face each other again before the 4A-10 tournament. If any team is to keep the top two seeds from advancing to the region playoffs, the Bucs might have the best shot.

UPS AND DOWNS: Pasco has fallen to 9-8 overall, but the Pirates' 8-1 conference record will keep pressure on first-place Ridgewood until they meet in the regular-season finale Feb. 13. Pasco, which faces a tough Land O'Lakes team Thursday, has struggled in Class 3A, District 6, managing a 1-4 record and losing to first-year Nature Coast Tech (5-12).

Two close losses to Hernando could make for an interesting district tournament in Brooksville, where there's a good chance the Pirates and Leopards could meet a third time, this time with a playoff berth on the line.

_ GREG AUMAN

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