Red Devils stun Crusaders

AVON PARK - The fourth time was the charm for Avon Park.

The Red Devils overcame a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to bounce Tampa Catholic from the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinals Thursday in Red Devils Gym by a score of 74-70 in overtime.

"We just really picked it up in the second half," said Avon Park coach Marty O'Hora. "We were passive in the first half, but really got aggressive on the glass late in the game. We were also driving to the paint more and it paid off."

Thursday's victory was the Red Devils (19-7) first over the Crusaders (15-13) in four tries.

Avon Park also avenged last year's crushing playoff loss to the Crusaders with the win.

The Devils will face the winner of Friday night's Frostproof and Tampa Berkeley Prep quarterfinal game in the regional semifinals.

"They had pretty much the same team, and we brought back pretty much the same team, so it was a pretty big deal to beat these guys," O'Hora said.

After a dismal scoring effort in the first half, Avon Park went into the break with only 25 points, trailing by nine. Tampa Catholic didn't ease off the gas much in the third period, either.

The Crusaders netted 21 points in the quarter, getting consistent scoring from co-captains Thomas Dziagwa and Chivarsky Corbett. The pair finished as the team's No. 1 and 2 scorers, as Dziagwa netted a game-high 21 points, while Corbett added 20.

Avon Park was down 13 points to start the fourth quarter. A score plus the foul from Recarus Burley seemed to lift the Devils momentarily, but still trailing 57-47 with just over six minutes left in the game, their prognosis looked grim.

However, Tampa Catholic slowly started to tilt its offensive scheme into Avon Park's favor - the Crusaders stopped running plays and started milking the clock.

It was the worst mistake they could have made.

The Devils started getting more aggressive on defense, hounding Tampa Catholic's ball-handlers and pressuring them into turnovers.

Avon Park trimmed the deficit to 61-51 with nearly four minutes left to play.

The Crusaders turned the ball over again and guard Alfred Brown swished a deep three to make it 61-54, and the Crusaders frantically called a time out.

Don Dziagwa tore into his players in the huddle. "Don't look at the clock," he said. "Stop playing to lose."

His words rang hollow.

Brown intercepted another wayward pass and quickly buried another 3-pointer. Now it was 61-57. Tyrone Perry drew a foul and swished both his free throws to make it 61-59.

A Crusader basket stopped the bleeding, but it was too late, they were in the final stages of their meltdown.

Leading 67-64 with under a minute to go, Dziagwa was busy dribbling a hole into the hardwood near center court. The Devils defense sensed he was stalling and they swarmed in. Dziagwa dribbled it off of his foot seconds later to give Avon Park a chance to tie the score.

The Devils threw up a frantic shot after struggling to set up their offense. But like he had all game, John Mason swooped in and snagged the offensive rebound and laid it back in before the Crusaders had time to box out.

Still down by one, Avon Park fouled to send Tampa Catholic to the line. The Crusaders converted one of two and held a 68-66 advantage with just a handful of seconds left on the clock.

Getting the play from O'Hora on the sideline, Brown took the ball and sprinted down court, easily penetrating the post and drawing a litany of defenders.

Spotting wide open teammate Gus Owens, he dished the ball down to the baseline and Owens softly laid it off the backboard to tie the game.

The Buzzer sounded only a fraction of a second later.

"We wanted to put the ball into the hands of our best creator," O'Hora said. "The plan was for him to go in there, try and create something and maybe find an open teammate, and he did."

Neither team could find the basket in overtime. The first point came with 90 seconds left in the period, when Tampa Catholic made one of two free throws.

Brown added another free throw to tie it, but the Crusaders countered by drawing the foul, again only managing to convert one of two from the charity stripe.

Following a stalled play from the Devils, Tampa Catholic appeared to have a guaranteed fast break bucket, but Avon Park's Ahmaad Smith had other plans, swooping in to swat the ball into the bleachers. The Crusaders failed to capitalize on their second chance and Brown used his quickness to drive to the basket and was fouled.

The Red Devil senior calmly made his free throws to seal the hard-fought victory.

Burley led Avon Park with 18 points. Brown netted 15, Mason poured in 14, and Owens contributed 12.

"Tampa Catholic is the type of team that shoots a lot of quick threes," O'Hora said. "They could either really blow a team out or let a team right back in, which is what we did. We just kept cutting into that lead. All the guys played really hard and I'm proud of their effort."