Devils edge 'Dogs

AVON PARK - Batman and Robin. Starsky and Hutch. Hall and Oates.

Are Avon Park's John Mason and Alfred Brown next to join the pantheon of dynamic duos?

The pair certainly made a case for it Thursday night. Mason netted a game-high 19 points and snagged nine rebounds while Brown added nine points and three assists to guide the Red Devils to a 57-50 victory over DeSoto in Red Devils Gym.

The win improved Class 4A Avon Park to 14-5 overall and gave the Devils their third straight victory. Avon Park is 9-2 in its last 11 games. The Class 5A Bulldogs, meanwhile, dropped to 6-4.

"We tried to give it away down the stretch," said Avon Park coach Marty O'Hora. "The kids had exams this week. A lot is on their mind. And instead of forgetting about all that stuff, we kind of let it slip in. But we still played hard and held on to the lead just enough to pull away."

Avon Park asserted itself in the paint from the early going. Mason was unstoppable, scoring at will on easy layups and when the defense sagged off, he swished his jump shots. The Devils opened the game on a 6-2 run, but defensive lapses let the Bulldogs cut the lead to two points by the end of the quarter.

"He needs to be like that the entire game," O'Hora said. "He didn't come out a whole lot tonight - we probably needed to do a better job of watching his minutes - but there's not a lot of guys that can guard him. He's got to understand that."

Up comfortably at the break, Avon Park ballooned its lead to 12 points midway through the third quarter when Daemon Braswell nailed a deep 3-pointer. But the frenzied scoring came at a price.

"There were a few plays late in the game, where we just blew our defensive assignments," O'Hora said. "DeSoto made about four baskets in what seemed like just a few seconds."

A thunderous dunk from Reggie Jones sparked a Bulldogs run, and with only a few minutes gone by in the fourth quarter, DeSoto had cut the Devils lead down to four points. Jones led DeSoto in scoring with 13 points.

Reeling from the Bulldogs haymaker, Avon Park responded with a flurry of turnovers. DeSoto wasn't able to capitalize, though, as Tony Lee bailed out the Devils defense with inopportune 3-pointers.

Needing to halt the Bulldogs run, the Devils started attacking DeSoto's front line, as Mason, Brown, and Recarus Burley willed their way to the free throw line.

The foul shots proved vital, as Burley made three out of four in the final minutes to ice the game. In between two trips to the charity stripe, Burley made a stellar hustle play, stealing a lazy in-bounds pass to keep the ball out of DeSoto's hands.

Burley finished with 11 points, six coming on free throws, and added four steals. Tyrone Perry added four points and three rebounds while Gus Owens contributed six points, also grabbing three rebounds. Braswell finished with eight points, three rebounds, and one steal.

While pleased with the win, O'Hora commented that he was disappointed with his team's lack of mental toughness at key points in the game.

"I've said it before, we're a team that doesn't hold a lead well. I'm much more comfortable with being down 10 than up by 10."

"DeSoto was much more mentally tough than we were down the stretch, and we've got to work on that. We can't let teams push us around under the glass."

Overall though, O'Hora has been impressed with his team's resolve. At one point during the season, the Devils played 12 games with only eight practices. Avon Park was in a brutal stretch, playing three games a week.

"We've got a little bit more time to put in some new stuff now, and it really helps that we're getting some rest as the season winds down ahead of the district tournament."

Thursday night was the Devils final regular season home game. The Devils honored Brown, their lone senior, before tip-off.

Avon Park wraps up the season on Jan. 30 against longtime rival Sebring. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Blue Streaks Gym. Frostproof will host this year's 4A-District 9 tournament, which runs through Feb. 3-7. The Devils are currently in The Devils open the 4A-District 9 tournament at Frostproof and runs from Feb. 3-7. Avon Park is in first place in the district standings with a 7-1 record.