Most expected one team to be there — the other, not so much.
In a battle between the powerhouse and the underdog, the underdog fell just short as Edgewater raced past Ocoee in a 71-60 win in the 8A District 5 championship game on Friday night.
While the win would be a big deal for most, it’s just another step for Edgewater (22-5, 10-0) to make it back to the state finals for the second year in-a-row, said Eagles’ coach Jason Atherton.
“Honestly, if you told me at the beginning of the season that ‘you’ll be hosting the first round of regionals,’ I’d take that any day of the week,” Atherton said. “We come into the season with five goals at Edgewater: a district title, a regional title, and a state title — the other two goals are to win the Metro, which we’ve done, and beat Boone. So we are three goals down with two left.”
The Eagles came out hitting on all cylinders early on in the game — when after going down 2-0 early, the Eagles would go on a 15-0 run through the first half of the first-quarter. Six of those points would come from senior forward Robert Allen, who would finish the game with 11-points.
The Knights (7-18, 0-5) would finally break the streak, but by the time the first-quarter had ended they found themselves in a 22-8 hole — thanks in part to both the Eagles’ big run and the 9-points on 3-for-3 shooting from deep by the Eagles’ hot-handed Rahem Butler. The senior forward would go on to rack up 15-points.
Despite finding a a bit of a rhythm and putting up better shots in the second-quarter — especially by Kordell Brown, whose 7-points would help lead to a team high 16-points on the night — the Knights still had problems closing the gap.
Both teams would trade buckets before the Eagles would go on a mini 8-0 run to make 38-19. A few traded baskets later, and the Eagles would take the 42-27 lead going into the half.
The hole that the Knights found themselves in didn’t worry coach John Siers, who saw the positives on the night when it came to his young team.
“When we play hard together, good things happen, and we stayed together and we didn’t fold,” Siers said. “We lost the second quarter by one, we came out and won the third-quarter, and pretty sure it was close in the fourth. I’m really proud of my guys — they’re one heck of a basketball team.”
It was in the third-quarter when the Knights really began to hit a stride as they outscored the Eagles 23 to 13.
The defense stepped up, while the Eagles’ offense began to sputter a bit as they missed shots from point-blank range.
With a window now open, the Knights’ offense got a chance to cut into the Eagles’ lead — which they did in a big way as they would go on a short run to whittle it down to single-digits with 5:30 to go in the quarter.
An Eagles’ timeout after a two-point shot from Brown wouldn’t stop the bleeding, as the Knights would go on a 10-point run to take their first lead of the game at 45-44 with 3:30 left in the third. Derrick Rucker’s 5-points and Brown’s 6-points would help in the Knight’s offensive onslaught. Rucker would eventually finish the night with 15-points.
Although things got a bit out of hand for the Eagles, Atherton would let his guys play — seeing if they could get out of the jam.
“Our intensity from the get-go was good — I thought our defense in the first half was really good,” Atherton said. “In the third quarter I thought we got a little sloppy on the defensive end, and also on the offensive end — we missed a bunch of shots around the basket that we normally make.”
The Knights’ lead would last more than a few seconds as the Eagles came right back down the floor to retake the lead.
While the Knights’ were able to keep the Eagles’ lead to just three toward the end, that would be the closest they could muster as the Eagles simply outlasted them for the rest of the game.
The MVP of the fourth-quarter, and of the game, for the Eagles came in the form of Michael Eads — whose 11-points in the final quarter helped seal up the 71-60 win. The sophomore guard would pick up a team high 20-points in a strong shooting performance.
With both teams making the district final, each are assured an automatic playoff birth — which for Siers is an opportunity to hit some early season goals.
“I want to play Edgewater again in 10-days,” Siers said with a smile. “Our goal at the beginning of the year, whether we were 2-and-23 or 10-and-whatever, that we wanted to play on Friday night for a district championship.
“So goal number one is achieved, goal number two is to win a championship — we didn't get there,” he said. “Goal number three is to win a regional game for the first time in Ocoee history — we are going to do that Thursday night.”
On the other side of the court, with their new district title in hand, Atherton and his squad are looking at taking the next step possible — bringing home a state title.
“We’ll enjoy this tonight, but our focus is on next Thursday,” Atherton said. We just have to take it one game at a time to try and make it back to Lakeland.”