We’re not sure when Poinciana boys basketball coach Richard Victor’s birthday is, but here’s betting on what present he’d like:
A mulligan for the Eagles’ third quarter against Eustis on Tuesday in the Region 6A-3 semifinals at Brizendine Gym.
The visiting Panthers turned a 25-18 halftime deficit into a 34-27 lead five minutes into the second half, and while Poinciana would chip away and eventually force overtime — and then double overtime — that third quarter, which had been the Eagles downfall a handful of times this season, was what stuck in Victor’s head after the 60-58 loss.
“Every 50-50 ball went their way in the second half and overtimes. I don’t have an answer,” he said. “We were prepared but you can’t dictate nerves inside of kids.
“In the third quarter nobody played well, but we showed no quit. They showed their grit.”
Early on, Poinciana (19-9) looked like the comfortable team and Eustis (20-8) the rattled one, despite so many of their fans coming down for the game that it felt like a Panthers home game. Paced by point guard Reggie Mesidor, who scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the second quarter, the Eagles raced to an early 18-6 after Mesidor hit a three-pointer and finished another three-point play in the first 20 seconds of the second quarter. The Panthers managed three first-quarter field goals against five turnovers.
Eustis then started picking away and, thanks to a 9-0 run midway through the quarter, pulled within two, 20-18, with 27 seconds left in the half. But before the half Luis Pena (10 points, 12 rebounds) scored on a layup, then Mesidor stole the ball and rattled home a 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to make it 25-18 at the break.
It was all Eustis to open the second half. Poinciana turned the ball over on its first four possessions, Lothario Adkins (22 points) and Jamarious Maple (21) scored the first 10 points of the half, and by the time the Eagles hoisted their first shot, the Panthers erased the deficit and held a 28-27 lead. They’d outscore Poinciana, 20-9, in the period, and when Bradley Douglas (15) hit a three to start the fourth quarter, the Eagles trailed 41-34 with seven minutes left.
But Eustis would get just one field goal in regulation after that, and led by Jahsean Corbett (14) who scored nine points in the fourth quarter, Poinciana picked at the lead, and it disappeared with Corbett stole the ball and got it to Mesidor, whose layup tied the score at 46 with less than a minute left.
Play was tight in both overtimes; Mesidor needed a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left in the first period to tie it at 52 to force four more minutes. The Eagles never led in the second overtime; Pena rebounded Adkins’ free throw miss with under eight seconds left, rushed the ball up court, passed, got it back but missed a baseline jumper at the buzzer.
Poinciana was 1-3 against Eustis this year; the win was in the District 6A-10 championship game and the four games were decided by a total of six points.
“We were in the toughest district in the state this year,” noting the presence of defending Class 6A state champ Leesburg and a 22-win Bishop Moore team that was the 6A-10 No. 1 seed, who the Eagles beat in the district semifinals.
Starters Mesidor, Anthony Duncan and defensive stopper Pat Usher graduate, but Corbett is a sophomore and Pena and role players Fabian De Lo Rios and Gabriel Casillas return. After going from 11-15 to 19-9 in his second season with Poinciana, Victor said the program’s arrow is pointing in the right direction.
“It was a heck of a year,” he said. “I think the ones coming back will use this for motivation, they understand how and when the real hard work starts.”