With eyes red and watery, the Lecanto players left the locker room. The Panthers were the first team in the school's history to win a boys basketball district title. This was the third time they reach the region semifinals. And until Tuesday night, Lecanto was 20-0 against Class 4A teams.
But Orlando Bishop Moore (22-8) stopped Lecanto (22-5) short of making school history again as the first team to reach the region final with a 64-56 win.
"I just can't believe it's over," said senior guard Mychal Nichols, who led Lecanto with 23 points. "We just came up short."
Similar in almost every aspect, Bishop Moore and Lecanto tried to use their speed and ability to press in a fast-paced frenzy. Both teams have depth, and like to take perimeter shots.
The Hornets were able to use a box-and-one on Nichols, who was held to three points in the first quarter, and a triangle-and-two to contain Lecanto. With Bishop Moore leading 12-11 after the first, the Hornets went on an 8-0 run at the start of the second, using a full-court press to force turnovers, get backdoor shots and capitalize on strong board play with second- and third-chance shots.
"It seemed like every loose ball, every loose rebound they got," Lecanto coach Chris Nichols said. "It's not that our guys weren't playing hard, it's just they got to it first."
By halftime, Bishop Moore had outscored Lecanto 31-22, scoring 19 in the second quarter.
A Nichols three, followed by a pair of Richard Chaney free throws invigorated the Panthers, who began to press more effectively, holding Bishop Moore to nine points in the third quarter to trail 40-33.
As time wound down late in the fourth, Bishop Moore still led, 56-48, with 2:40 to go when Ryan Blakeslee nailed a 3-pointer and Nichols took a nearly lost ball from his knees into a 3-point play to bring Lecanto within two at 56-54 with 1:23 left.
But Bishop Moore's leading scorer, Danny Krazit, who finished with 21 points, scored down low. Hornets senior Tim O'Reilly, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth, followed it up with another bucket before Lecanto took to fouling in the final seconds.
"It was one of our best nights and we showed up ready to play," Bishop Moore coach Irwin Hudson said.