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On the cusp

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Cedar Key boys put scare into Trenton in district tournament

By Sean Arnold

There was a palpable feeling in the Dixie County High School gym that Cedar Key might pull off the improbable.

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The Shark boys, looking for their first tournament win in more than two decades, had fallen behind 13-3 in the first quarter, but came storming back to take leads in the second and third quarters of the District 1A-7 quarterfinal Feb. 13 in Cross City. With four minutes remaining, on the heels of a Kris Burns layup, CKS was knotted with the Tigers at 45-45.

From there, the Cedar Key shots stopped falling however, with a Burns layup and put-back representing the only remaining scores for the purple and gold, as third-seeded Trenton prevailed 56-49.

The Tigers advanced to face Dixie County in the semifinal round, where they lost to the Bears. DCHS fell to top-seeded Bell in the district championship 61-39. The Bulldogs play host to Frostproof in the regional semifinals Feb. 22, while Dixie County travels to face Wildwood.

The Sharks put in a signature performance when it counted most. Their previous meetings with Trenton were all double-digit defeats.

Tired legs ultimately appeared to play a part in the game, as the multiple rallies began to take a toll. The Sharks were sharpest in the middle quarters.

“I think we got tired in the fourth,” said first-year CKS coach John Miller, who added that his team game planned a scheme to try to force Trenton out of a zone defense to take advantage of Burns’ and sophomore Michael Smith’s talents. “The shots wouldn’t go. We just couldn’t get back in sync with what we were doing.

“It was there, we just couldn’t come away with it. They worked hard. It was our goal to advance one time, and we came within seven points of doing it. We’re proud (of what we’ve done).”

A pull-up jumper by Burns at the end of the opening quarter sparked Cedar Key’s first comeback run. Burns’ lengthy counterpart, Smith, answered with a steal and layup in the early moments of the second quarter, and continued to dominate in the second quarter on a quartet of field goals in the paint.

The duo dazzled through long stretches, as a somewhat undersized Trenton struggled to contain either. Burns posted a game-high 23 points while Smith added 15.

There were standout moments from role players as well. Wade Gore tied the game for Cedar Key at 13-13 on a runner, and John Boyle poured on seven points in the second half, including a corner 3 that cut the Sharks’ deficit to two in the fourth.

Burns, an elusive left-hander, mixed in a variety of buckets in the second half: mid-range fall-aways, put-backs in the paint, breakaway layups, and a 3. The performance further solidified the junior’s status as one of the top players to watch in the area next year.

An early burst by Trenton muddied Cedar Key’s prospects. But the Sharks managed to bend the game toward its preferred style in the second quarter – a more deliberate pace with more man-to-man matchups. They also made it harder on the Trenton offense, denying it more second-chance opportunities by engaging the boards.

The senior-led Tigers enjoyed a dispersed scoring distribution, but Tyrique Baber emerged with a team-high seven points behind a 10-point second half. Fellow seniors Eric Henry and Jayce Gentry joined him in double figures with 10 and 11 points, respectively.

Miller has seen the Trenton seniors grow up as a former coach at Bell, and embraced them during pregame introductions in recognition.

“I think the No. 1 thing Cedar Key has struggled with is they never expected to win,” Miller said. “Somehow they came to believe (they can win) this year. All they need now is more experience. (Those Trenton seniors) have more basketball experience between the three of them than maybe my whole team.

“We’re thankful. The Lord has blessed us.”