Despite it being a crucial road matchup against Sanger, the Gainesville Leopards had every reason to surrender on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Their best player Tre Lawson got into foul trouble and the Indians boosted their lead to as many as 19 points early in the third quarter.
But the Leopards did not quit.
Although they still trailed 50-32 at the end of the third quarter, they chipped away at the lead in the fourth quarter.
Gainesville found its defensive groove, which led to easy transition layups. Then, the pressure they put on Sanger started to sink into the Indians’ game, which gave way to poor decisions and an extended the Leopards’ run.
Gainesville used a full-court press to send the Indians’ offense into a tailspin and the Leopards were able to cut the lead to 63-61 lead with 7.3 second left.
They attempted the home-run pass for a hopeful last-second shot, but the Leopards couldn’t land the final blow as they fell 64-61.
Gainesville head coach Jeff Wolf said he was more than proud of the effort his team left out on the court at Sanger High School.
“Yeah I mean that’s one thing we’re trying to instill in the program is to never give up and just to keep on fighting no matter what,” Wolf said. “I think in the third quarter, I’m just telling them ‘there’s not a lot for me to tell you. Let’s fight and see what happens.’ I liked the way they turned their frustration into positivity on the court. If we could have played like that the entire first quarter, we might have pulled it out.”
The Leopards did have a stellar start to the game, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, which forced an early Sanger timeout.
However, the Indians used an 11-5 run to cut the lead to 14-11 at the end of the first frame.
Sanger continued its rally as the Indians used a 10-0 run to open the second quarter and claim control of the game at 21-14.
The Indians outscored Gainesville 24-8 in the second quarter to take a 35-22 lead to halftime.
Gainesville junior Noah Ridge took advantage of some extra playing time and it paid off as he led the Leopards’ offense with 15 points.
Sophomore Robyn Hardin also had 11 points and was a big part of the Leopards’ comeback.
Gainesville outscored Sanger 29-14 in the final quarter and junior Traylen Shinault aided the offense with seven of his nine points in the final frame.
“I totally felt like our second-half shooting percentage had to be way higher and we took care of the ball really well,” Wolf said. “It’s all about being consistent and when you’re young, in general we have to be more consistent.”
The Leopards fell to 0-8 in district play this season and has two games remaining.
Gainesville will face Melissa on Friday, Feb. 8 and will close out the season against Anna on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
“They’re still fighting,” Wolf said. “That’s really what I’m looking for. Now, I want to win games, obviously, but we’re still fighting. I really just wish we could have got a win.”
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip