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Bears struggle without injured star

During the Gulf County Classic in Port St. Joe, Central got a glimpse of what life will be like after Alex Ruoff. It wasn't as pretty as the Bears had hoped.

Central entered the tournament without its Division I-bound leading scorer and rebounder, who sprained his left ankle over the holidays. While other players such as Tim Plumadore, Justin Lewis and Bernardo DeJesus stepped up their game, the Bears couldn't quite overcome the absence of the 6-foot-7 guard/forward. They lost all three games, and now Central has a 9-4 record.

"They haven't responded as fully as we had hoped," Bears assistant Jeff Spivey said.

"Maybe we can make up for it this week. The better we can play without him, the better we can play with him," Spivey said.

Ruoff did not play in Tuesday night's game against Hernando and is not expected to see any action for at least another week. He will sit out Thursday at Springstead and against Crystal River at home Friday.

SPRINGSTEAD REGROUPS: The boys team had some adjustments to make when its top scorer and rebounder, AB Rodriguez, was out of town.

He was visiting his grandfather, who was ill, in the Dominican Republic over the holidays. Also, starting forward Chris Ferguson quit the squad to focus on other things, leaving the Eagles with some holes to fill.

Springstead (3-5) did not win any of its three games in the Hudson Holiday Tournament but gained a lot of confidence in sophomore Adrian Smith, who was called up from the junior varsity. He scored 19 points in the three contests and earned a permanent spot on the varsity roster.

FLORIDA GULF COAST CLASSIC: Nature Coast Tech coach Jason Montgomery was pleased with the success of his first girls holiday tournament, which featured eight teams, including three from the county.

"We had some good competition," Montgomery said. "It went as smoothly as any tournament I've ever been to."

He's hoping to expand the Classic to a 16-team bracket format next season. But starting out with half that many, the winner was determined by its record. Nature Coast and Wayne County (Ky.), both 3-0, were the co-champions. The Sharks beat Wayne (Ky.) Central 56-53 and River Ridge 58-52 before routing Hernando Christian.

Wayne Central and Pasco tied for second place, Lecanto and River Ridge shared third and Central and Hernando Christian tied for fourth.

EAGLES STAY HOME: Hoping to gain some experience and possibly get their first victory of the season, the Springstead girls scheduled a holiday tournament in Orange Park (near Jacksonville).

When their transportation fell through, though, coach Greg Linley had to find creative ways to keep the Eagles (0-7) busy and challenged through the break.

He conducted a "mini-camp" at Springstead, holding practice sessions 2-3 hours every day with a three-day break for Christmas and two days off for New Year's.

"They asked for practice on New Year's Eve," Linley said. "But I had to give them the day off. They're starting to get it."

_ EMILY NIPPS, Times staff writer

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