AVON PARK - The Avon Park boys basketball team had a furious second-half comeback fall just short as the Red Devils lost to Frostproof by a score of 49-48 in a Class 4A-District 9 game on Tuesday night.
The loss dropped Avon Park to 6-3 overall and 3-1 in district play while the win improved the Bulldogs to 3-4, and 3-1.
Frostproof set the tone early and throughout the game as they held Avon Park to just 1 point, a free throw by Gus Owen three minutes into the game, as they surged to an 11-1 lead with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
"We went to last year's first month team," said Avon Park Coach Marty O'Hora. "Absolutely no teamwork in the first quarter, selfishness, guys arguing, it was very disappointing."
The Red Devils scored the final four points of the first quarter as Recarus Burley drained two from the charity line and Owens momentarily awoken the crowd when he stole the ball and returned it for the easy basket, but Avon Park still trailed 11-5.
The momentum shift did not extend to the second quarter as the pressure and physical play of the Bulldogs held the Red Devils scoreless for the first four minutes while they built a 20-5 lead.
With three minutes left in the half and down 21-7, Avon Park went on an 8-2 run spurred by a pair of 3-pointers by Dameon Braswell that brought the home crowd to their feet with a 1:20 left in the half.
The Red Devils were unable to score after that as they went into the half trailing the Bulldogs 25-15.
"I knew they would be physical, they know we struggle against physical teams and it obvious to asses that we are physically and mentally weak right now," said O'Hora. "We need to figure out a way to get tougher, whether it be in practice and get it fixed before February. Hopefully this is a wakeup call."
It seemed as that wakeup call had come in the third quarter as Tyrone Perry opened the third quarter driving to the hoop, making the basket and picking up the foul for the three-point play.
But Frostproof responded by making two baskets, including a 3-pointer by Zeke Hayes as the Bulldogs increased their lead to 30-18.
Avon Park then controlled the rest of the third quarter, going on a 12-3 run to bring the Red Devils to within three of Frostproof, 33-30, as they headed into the final quarter.
It took nearly 4 minutes for Avon Park to make its first basket in the fourth quarter, but they made 5 of 6 from the free throw line and held Frostproof scoreless as they pushed ahead of the Bulldogs 35-33.
Owens basket with 4 minutes left gave the Red Devils their last lead at 37-36.
What had been a defensive physical struggle of a game the first 28 minutes became an offensive scoring barrage the final for four minutes as Frostproof led 49-47 with 22 seconds left in the game.
Owens made the first free throw and missed the second to pull the Red Devils within one, 49-48, and Avon Park fouled Frostproof's Adrian Hadley with 14 seconds left in the game.
Hadley missed both shots, but Frostproof momentarily regained possession with the rebound under the basket.
In a tussle under the basket, John Mason stole the ball away from Frostproof. Mason passed the ball down court to Owens who made the apparent go ahead basket with 8 seconds left as the crowd hit a crescendo in cheering and celebrating.
In a call that those in attendance may still be talking about, a lone whistle cut through the celebratory noise as the official under the Frostproof basket called a double-dribble infraction that negated the score and gave the ball back to Frostproof.
Avon Park had one last shot, with 2 seconds left after a couple of missed free throws by the Bulldogs, but the three-quarter court shot missed its target as Avon Park lost to Frostproof 49-48.
"We gave one away," said O'Hora. "They played harder than we did, and they deserved it. I don't think their size had anything to do with it, they just wanted it more than we did."
About the double-dribble call, O'Hora said it was tough, but the game did not come down to that and should have never gotten to that point.
"We'll see how our kids respond in practice," the Red Devils coach said. "This will be a great test for our team, I look at it as an opportunity more than anything else."
Avon Park will travel to Lake Placid to face the Green Dragons in a district game Friday night.